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Job Opportunities for Day Laborers Decline


What about employment at the lowest levels of the economy? What about those hiring lines of day laborers looking for a few hours of construction work or painting or gardening.

A lot of the people doing that kind of labor are working in the country illegally, and in some jurisdictions they're facing new policies cracking down on illegal immigration.

What's the impact of the economic down turn on them?

Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He joins us from Los Angeles.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Alvarado.

Mr. PABLO ALVARADO (Executive Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, from what you've been able to find out what's happening on hiring lines at day labor centers?

Mr. ALVARADO: Well, the number of workers in street corners and day labor centers has increased while the number of jobs has decreased. And that has do with the decline in the housing market because the majority of the employers of day laborers are homeowners, and usually, they use some kind of disposable income to hire workers to come and clean their backyards and front yards, do mostly landscaping and small home remodeling projects.

But now, in these times of crisis, employers and homeowners in particular are more protective of that disposable income, so the number of jobs has declined in the daily centers and corners.

SIEGEL: Now many of these people are migrant workers, they've migrated here. Are they typically on the move migrating to other places in the country where there might be more work than there is in the place where they have been living?

Mr. ALVARADO: Well, the dynamics of supply and demand apply to the day labor market as well. Yes, workers move to different places in big metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. Workers go from one corner to the other corner, trying their luck in different places. Or in places where enforcement - law enforcement has been cracking down on immigrant workers, in those places where they have a lot of hostility, workers are deciding to move to other places where they are more accepted, where there's more tolerance to their presence.

SIEGEL: There's an interesting - almost an irony here. If we see on a hiring corner a lot of people, that means the market is bad; there are a lot of job seekers and people are not being picked up and taken off to a job site somewhere?

Mr. ALVARADO: Yes. There's a lot of workers, and as I said now it's not just day labors. It's also permanent construction workers in the residential industry that are working either two or three days a week, and they have no other choice but to go to a day labor corner for two or three days.

When you go to a day labor corner, you can see the desperation of workers particularly at the end of the month. You'll see the faces, really sad faces of people trying to figure out how are they going to pay the bill, and how they're going to help families back in their homeland.

SIEGEL: If U.S. economic contraction were to persist for several months, if these were the conditions, and the end of every month looked as bad as the end of last month, let's say, in a hiring line, do you anticipate at some point that it would make more sense to either remain in Mexico and Central America or go back there than count on work like that in the U.S.?

Mr. ALVARADO: I think it's more likely that Mexicans and Central Americans and South Americans decide to stay in their countries rather than migrating. And I think that is more likely than immigrants who are currently here going back to their home countries. Because again, I mean, if you get a day of work a week that is $60 a day. Well, guess what, that's what you make in a month back in Mexico or Central America.

SIEGEL: Do you have any sense of where in the country there actually is some work right now? And where have people gone and actually found a bright spot in the economy for day labor?

Mr. ALVARADO: I think that the situation is difficult everywhere, but I - honestly, I feel it more in the West Coast. I was just in New Jersey last week, and I was talking to the workers and I was asking whether the number of jobs have declined as much as they have here in the West Coast. And they said that it was not because of the housing market, but because of the enforcement practices basically has turned employers away, and interfere in the process of, you know, looking for work or hiring workers.

SIEGEL: The bottom line as I hear you is that given two different pressures working against the people you're talking about, many local policies that are cracking down on illegal immigration and also the economic down turn, this may be diminishing new immigration into the U.S., but as far as you know it's not sending people back home at this point.

Mr. ALVARADO: Let me put it this way, if you live in Mexico or Central America, you may have your house and you may not have a bed, and you don't have any bed to sleep, you have to sleep on the floor. But when you come to this country, you may not have a bed either, but at least there's a carpet where you can lay down and sleep. And just by that, you see the improvement in the quality of life, just that simple example.

So, I don't think the workers are going to go back to our home countries because they're going to be more devastated than the United States, because that the economy is impacting everyone not only here in the States but everywhere else as well.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Alvarado, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. ALVARADO: No problem. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He spoke to us from Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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