Day laborers seeking work in street corners, a clear testament to the expansion of contingent work and the informal economy, are a growing phenomenon in cities across the nation (Valenzuela 1999; Theodore et al 2005; Valenzuela et. al 2006). The presence of this growing labor market has stemmed from a broader segmentation of the United States economy, as encouraged by the macro processes of globalization, outsourcing, and immigration which have increased the demand for day labor. This growing sector of the labor market, largely fueled by undocumented immigrants, has resulted in an influx of new populations throughout various municipalities in the United States. The growth of this population, combined with the growing contestation over immigration has resulted in increasing levels of community conflict over the presence of day laborers, with residents complaining of undesirable social behavior such as loitering, intimidation, and public intoxication and day laborers complaining of harassment and abuse by local law enforcement and residents (Valenzuela 1999; Valenzuela et al 2006). Recent studies indicate that the growing number of day labor centers throughout the United States may be helping to reduce this type of community conflict and successfully introduce day laborers into the local economy (Valenzuela et al 2006; Valenzuela et al 2005; Fine 2005; Milkman 2006; Theodore and Martin 2006; Bada et. al 2007). In their role as labor market intermediaries, worker centers hold the capacity to offer a variety of services including not only job allocation and wage recovery but also English language courses, health services, and sponsor a variety of sports and social activities for day laborers (Fine 2005; Valenzuela, Theodore and Melendez 2005). Such activities place day labor worker centers in a unique position as they reduce levels of community conflict, while at the same time, ensuring the health and well being of day laborers within local communities (Fine 2005; Milkman 2004; Valenzuela et al 2006).
Over the last three decades, the United States economy has experienced a growing segmentation of the labor market and an increase in the growth of informal and contingent work. A result of the broader economic restructuring of the United States labor market, the demand for day labor has increased, leading to a growing concern over the insecurity and abuses associated with this type of employment (Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez, and Gonzalez, 2006). However, studies indicate that day labor centers, which have grown throughout the United States, may offer a solution to employment abuses and insecurity, by successfully impacting day labor market outcomes including: employee wages, workplace abuse, and worker health and safety (see Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez 2007: Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez, Gonzalez 2006; Gonzalez and Valenzuela 2007; Fine 2005; Milkman 2007). Currently there are over 60 day labor worker centers operating in at least 15 states throughout the nation (Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez 2008). Day labor centers are “loosely regulated hiring sites where workers may seek employment under relatively structured conditions” (Valenzuela 2003: 4) and “where day laborers are encouraged to congregate and employers are encouraged to find workers” (Theodore, Valenzuela, Melendez 2007: 2). Studies have indicated that worker centers play an important role in responding to the employment and workplace abuses often found in the day labor market (Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez 2007; Fine 2005). As Valenzuela et al. (2007) note, worker centers offer a response on the demand side by “offer[ing] a way to monitor the practices of employers and to curtail abuses such as wage theft and exposure to unsafe conditions” (page 4). At the same time, “They also represent a response on the supply side by organi[zing] and normaliz[ing] the hiring of day laborers, monitor worker quality, and provide opportunities for worker incorporation into the mainstream economy through employment assistance and in some cases, skills training” (Valenzuela, Theodore, Melendez 2007: 4).
Day laborers, standing on corners waiting for employers to pick them up, are a growing phenomenon in American cities across the country (Valenzuela 1999, 2002, 2003; Valenzuela and Meléndez 2003; Valenzuela et al 2006). The demand for day labor can be understood as a manifestation of a broader pattern of structural changes in the economy fostering the demand for contingent workers and the expansion of the informal economy (Marcelli 2004; Peck and Theodore 2001; Portes and Sassen‐Koob 1987; Sassen1997). These changes in the structure of labor markets have induced beneficial trends in labor participation by both shaping job content and work flexibility, and opening new career paths and employment opportunities (Kalleberg 2000; Bernhardt et al 2005). However, structural economic changes have also induced a growing divide between bad jobs and good jobs, an increase in income inequality, a growing labor market segmentation, and significantly expanded unstable and temporary work (Carre 2000; Benner 2002; Smith 2002; Beneria 2001). The presence of a growing segment of the Latino immigrant population concentrated in informal work relations is linked to the changing structural factors in the U.S. economy which have increased the demand for contingent workers, unstable employment contracts, and the restructuring of industries, firms, and occupations (Theodore, 2003, 2006; Theodore and Martin 2007). The structural factors inducing increased immigration as a source of flexible labor force are powerful, embedded within the structure and operation of the labor market, and likely to persist over time (Espenshade 1995). Given these structural forces, it is likely that the day labor phenomenon will continue for years to come, and perhaps expand rapidly.