Abuse grows for low-wage workers


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.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.


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