Day labor is defined as work contracted between an employer and employee on a temporary basis, usually until the completion of a particular job. Wages are often paid in cash and workers do not receive benefits. Most day laborers perform manual labor jobs, ranging from home construction projects to landscaping, painting, and roofing.
Day labor accounts for a significant portion of the United States’ labor force. The National Day Labor Survey (NDLS), estimates that on any given day, approximately 117,600 day laborers are looking for work or working as temporary laborers in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the figure even higher, reporting in 2001 that over 260,000 day laborers were working across the country. But even this likely underestimates the number of day laborers in the U.S. today, although a poor economy surely lessens the number, as some workers return to their home countries to wait out a recession.
The majority of day laborers are Hispanic men, with some portion of these men being foreign-born, though this by no means describes all day laborers. A study of day laborers in Southern California conducted by Abel Valenzuela, Jr., “Working on the Margins”, (www.ccis-ucsd.org/PUBLICATIONS/wrkg22.PDF) found that only 1/3 of the day laborers surveyed had been in the U.S. for less than a year. Most were between the ages of 18 and 30 and had not completed high school.
B: Finding work, Day Labor Centers
Laborers typically connect with employers through the use of informal hiring sites such as public street corners or empty lots close to gas stations, convenience stores, and home improvement businesses. Many cities and towns across the United States have seen growing numbers of day laborers congregating on public streets.
As depicted in Brother Towns, residents of Jupiter complained about day laborers loitering and creating a public nuisance on the streets while they waited for work.
The community’s solution was to create a day labor center, El Sol, where workers could meet safely and wait for work. A growing number of day labor centers, similar to El Sol, are being established across the country as communities seek new and constructive ways to live in harmony while assisting their day labor population.