The Case for Day Laborers


Loyola Law School professor Gregg Kettles has posted a very interesting article to the Social Sciences Research Network examining the history and economics of day labor markets, ranging from the mid-19th century New York dock workers who would "shape up" each morning to the frequently demonized Mexican (and Central and South American) immigrants who make up much of today's day labor force. In Kettles' view, state and local governments today are pursuing two equally flawed strategies. The first is to exclude day workers entirely, using loitering and vagrancy laws, traffic regulations, and the like to push them off of public property. The second strategy is to shelter them in indoor work stations that double as job placement/recruitment centers. But Kettles' research points to a very different option, "one rarely emphasized to local government policy makers: day laborers should largely be left alone and allowed to solicit work on the street." From the paper's abstract:

The strategy of exclusion ignores economic theory, which justifies the presence of day labor markets in public space. Exclusion also overlooks the nation's rich history of allowing day laborers and other temporary workers to use the sidewalk to solicit work. Exclusion further ignores fundamental economic and demographic changes that have increased demand for day laborers—whether illegal immigrants or not—and made public sidewalks the most efficient way to match these workers with potential employers. Finally, the strategy of exclusion is at odds with the contemporary push toward the "New Urbanism," with its sidewalk-intense uses, and the character of today's suburbs, which are increasingly integrated. The strategy of shelter similarly misunderstands the advantages offered by the street to day laborers. Like those who in earlier advocated sheltering the homeless and helping them find work, advocates of sheltering day laborers exhibit good intentions. But they risk turning street entrepreneurs into dependents. The defects of exclusion and shelter point to a third way to respond to day labor—one that gives them a place on the street.

Whole thing here. Read Reason's extensive immigration coverage here.