The immigrant day laborers who wait for work on street corners across the United States have families and attend church regularly, and the people who hire them are more likely to be individual homeowners than construction contractors.
The first nationwide study of day laborers also found that one in five has been injured on the job and nearly half have been cheated out of pay.
The study, the most detailed snapshot to date of the mostly Hispanic and often undocumented immigrants who’ve become a focal point in the immigration debate, was based on interviews of 2,660 workers at 264 hiring sites in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
Forty-nine percent of respondents said they were regularly hired by homeowners for everything from carpentry to gardening, with 43 percent getting jobs from construction contractors. Two-thirds said they are hired repeatedly by the same employer.
Based on their interviews and counts at each hiring site, the researchers estimate there are about 117,600 day laborers nationwide, but say that number is probably low. They said it would be impossible to count the number of hiring sites nationwide, since some spring up spontaneously.
Among the other findings based on the interviews conducted in July and August 2004:
Three-fourths were illegal immigrants and most were Hispanic: 59 percent were from Mexico and 28 percent from other Central American countries.
More than 80 percent rely on day labor as their sole source of income, earning close to the 2005 federal poverty guideline of $12,830 for a family of two.