“No Place for Old Men”: Immigrant Duration, Wage Theft, and Economic Mobility among Day Laborers in Denver, Colorado.

Galemba, Rebecca, and Randall Kuhn.

International Migration Review (2021): 01979183211001370.


Day laborers are a highly vulnerable population, due to their contingent work arrangements, low socioeconomic position, and precarious immigration status. Earlier studies posited day labor as a temporary bridge for recent immigrants to achieve more stable employment, but recent studies have observed increasing duration of residence in the United States among foreign-born day laborers. This article draws on 170 qualitative interviews and a multi-venue, year-long street corner survey of 411 day laborers in the Denver metropolitan area to analyze how duration in the United States affects day laborers’ wages, work, and wage theft experiences. Compared to recent immigrants, foreign-born day laborers with longer duration in the United States, we found, worked fewer hours and had lower total earnings but also had higher hourly wages and lower exposure to wage theft. We draw on qualitative interviews to address whether this pattern represented weathering, negative selection, or greater discernment. Rather than upward or downward mobility, long duration immigrant day labors had more jagged incorporations experiences. Interviews suggest that day laborers draw on experience to mitigate the risk of wage theft but that the value of experience is undercut by the fierce competition of daily recruitment, ultimately highlighting the compounding vulnerabilities facing longer duration and older immigrant day laborers. The article highlights duration as an understudied precarity factor which can adversely impact the economic assimilation of long duration immigrants who persist in contingent markets like day labor.

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