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Bill Radke: Hundreds of day laborers and activists are swarming Capitol Hill today
to push for immigration reform. They argue the economic crisis has meant growing abuse of illegal -- and also legal -- workers. Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: Even during the construction boom, employers often ripped off undocumented day laborers.

Nik Theodore studies the low-wage labor market at the University of Illinois. He says the collapse of the construction industry has made a bad situation worse.

Nik Theodore: The wage thresholds have begun to fall with the loss of work, and there has also been a rise in wage theft -- the underpayment and non-payment of wages.

But now he says the abuses common in that underground economy are spilling into the whole low-wage labor market. In a study published this month, he found:

Theodore: Sixty-eight percent of workers that we surveyed reported at least one violation of a major labor unemployment law in the previous week. And it should be noted here that we are not talking about a few rogue employers or industries that are on the margins.

And Theodore says these abuses don't just happen to illegal immigrants anymore. They can affect anyone who has to take a low-wage job. He believes giving immigrants a legal right to work might help all workers protect their rights.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.