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Overview: Wave of Immigration

FAQ: Day Labor in NY

Who are day laborers?

Day laborers are overwhelmingly Latino; one-third from Mexico, another third from the rest of Central America, and the final third including workers from South America. Most are also young, recent arrivals (less than two years) in the United States. About half of day laborers are single. However, an almost equal number (47 percent) have a spouse or are living with someone they support. While Latinos do comprise the majority of the day laborer population, the number of African day laborers has been increasing. A significant number of day laborers are educated. Their educational attainment ranges from no formal education to college and beyond, with the mean number of years in school hovering around eight. Almost a third (30 percent) have over ten years of formal schooling.

Who is an immigrant?

A foreign-born individual, who has been admitted to reside permanently in the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident.

How do immigrants get admitted to permanently reside here?

Typically, a foreign-born individual seeking to become a Lawful Permanent Resident can do so in one of three ways:

  •  Through family-sponsored immigration, a U.S. citizen can sponsor his or her foreign-born spouse, parent (if the sponsor is over the age of 21), minor and adult married and unmarried children, and brothers and sisters. A Lawful Permanent Resident can sponsor his or her spouse, minor children, and adult unmarried children.
  •  Through employment-based immigration, a U.S. employer can sponsor an individual for a specific position where there is a demonstrated absence of U.S. workers.
  •  By winning one of a limited number of immigrant visas available in the annual diversity visa lottery that is open to would-be immigrants from certain countries.

Who is a non-immigrant?

A non-immigrant is an individual who is permitted to enter the US for a period of limited duration, such as, students, tourists, temporary workers, business executives, diplomats, artists and entertainers, and reporters. Depending on where they are from and the purpose of their visit, non-immigrants may be required to apply for and obtain a visa from the US government. All non-immigrants--regardless of whether they have a US visa--must also pass immigration inspection upon arrival in the US.
What are the earnings of day labor?

In New York, day labor work pays better than minimum wage, but such labor is difficult, irregular, and often dangerous.2 The average hourly wage ($9.37) for day labor work is about $4.22 more than the New York and federal minimum wage during normal demand conditions (i.e., spring and summer months). During the off-peak winter months, this figure drops to $7.61 or $2.46 more than the minimum wage.

Average monthly wages vary for day laborers depending on seasonal periods and demand. During a good month, day laborers on average earn $1,450. During a bad month, they earn on average about $500.

Day labor work is a full-time endeavor. Eighty-three percent of all day laborers work in this market full time; the other seventeen percent hold a part time job that on average occupies about 27 hours of their workweek (Monday - Sunday).
What kind of work do day laborers do?

Day laborers perform a wide variety of jobs, including dirty and/or dangerous tasks that might expose them to chemical wastes and other occupational hazards. They primarily work in the construction industry, including painting, carpentry, and landscape.

Why work day labor?

In New York, day labor is often a stepping-stone to full-time/ yearlong employment for workers. Despite earning low wages, many day laborers assist family members or friends in their country-of-origin in a significant way. In 2001, day laborers sent an average of nine payments (called remittances) amounting to a yearly total of $3,641.
Who hires day laborers?

Attracted by the low cost of the labor and lack of responsibility for benefits or ongoing employment -- and sometimes because they simply cannot find anyone else to hire -- homeowners and contractors are the primary employers of day laborers. Each group accounts for more than 41 percent of day labor employment opportunities with contractors representing more than half of all employers.
What are the risks of day labor?

Day laborers are routinely abused at the work place. About half of all day laborers report at least one instance of non-payment of wages. Other types of employer abuses include paying less than the agreed upon amount, no workers compensation or medical insurance provided for job-related injuries or illnesses, being abandoned at work site, bad checks (NSF) in payment for work undertaken, no breaks or water at the work site, robbery, and threats.
What percentage of day laborers are documented?

Approximately 81% of day laborers are undocumented immigrants. When asked about barriers to employment they encountered, day laborers responded 31.3% because of lack of documents and 34.7% lack of English proficiency.

What are the legal rights of an undocumented day laborer?

The majority of employment and labor law protections apply to workers regardless of immigration status. This includes rights to file wage and hour complaints, report health and safety violations or access workers' compensation benefits.
Would day laborers like to seek permanent residency if they could?

In the New York survey of day laborers, more than an a third believed they qualify for permanent residency -- of those, 32% intend to apply for permanent residency.
What is the gender breakdown of day laborers?

In New York 94.8% are men and 5.2% are women. Men primarily work in the construction industry. Women work as housekeepers, janitors, and factory workers.


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The above questions and answers come in most part from Valenzuela, Jr., Abel and Melendez Edwin. 2003. "Day Labor in New York: Findings from the New York Day Labor Survey." New York. April 11, 2003.

1 Schmidley, Dianne, 2003. "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: March 2002." Current Population Reports, P20-539, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.

2 The data regarding day laborers here primarily concerns state and local arenas, as national statistics about day laborers are currently lacking. Neighborhood Funders Group plans to release a study about national immigrant worker centers in Summer 2004.