Structural racism and immigrant health: exploring the association between wage theft, mental health, and injury among Latino day laborers.

Fernandez-Esquer, Maria Eugenia, Lynn N. Ibekwe, Rosalia Guerrero-Luera, Yesmel A. King, Casey P. Durand, and John S. Atkinson. 

Ethnicity & Disease 31, no. Suppl (2021): 345-356.


Background: Although wage theft has been discussed primarily as a labor and human rights issue, it can be conceptualized as an issue of structural racism with important consequences for immigrant health.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to: 1) identify sociodemographic, employment, and stress-related characteris­tics that increase LDLs’ odds of experiencing wage theft; 2) assess the association be­tween wage theft and serious work-related injury; 3) assess the association between wage theft and three indicators of mental health—depression, social isolation, and alcohol use—as a function of wage theft; and 4) assess serious work-related injury as a function of wage theft controlling for mental health.

Methods: Secondary data analyses were based on survey data collected from 331 Latino day laborers between November 2013 and July 2014. Regression analyses were conducted to test the relationships described above.

Results: Approximately 25% of participants reported experiencing wage theft and 20% reported serious work-related injury. Wage theft was associated with working in construction and was initially associated with work-related injury. Wage theft was not significantly associated with mental health indicators. The association between wage theft and injury became non-significant when controlling for the mental health variables.

Conclusions: The hardship and stress associated with wage theft incidents may ultimately lead to more frequent injury. Al­though we expected an association of wage theft with mental health, we found vulner­ability to physical health as indicated by in­jury incidents. Thus, our basic premise was partially supported: wage theft may act as a stressor that stems from conditions, in part, reflecting structural racism, making work­ers vulnerable to poorer health.

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