A LIVING WAGE
What Jobs Won’t Americans Do?
“There are some jobs in America that Americans won’t do and others are willing to do.”
-President George W. Bush
Dec. 20, 2004
Day laborers line up for a chance of working today. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
By Brian M. Rafferty
Early in the morning, as the sun rises over the corner of 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, a crowd gathers. A bunch of robust men in their early 30s carry steaming cups of coffee, speaking to each other in Spanish, looking up as a driver slows down in a late model, extended cap pick up truck.
The driver and the men exchange a few words, a door opens, and three men are on their way toward opportunity, a job for the day, and cold, hard cash by the time they get dropped off later that afternoon.
The job they went off to do, their friends say, is some siding work on a house in Ridgewood. In a single day they will tear off the existing siding of a home, scrape down the bare exterior and hang vinyl from top to bottom, including trim. They may be done in the late afternoon, but odds are they won’t stop until after 8 or 9 p.m. that night – a good 12 hours work.
And the $100 bucks each they’ll get for the day is great.
Pat Lemanski, who calls himself a “talent scout” for day laborers, picks up crews for a handful of contractors in Queens and Brooklyn every day. Using day laborers, he said, is the only way that the people he works for can stay in business. If they had to deal with employees, benefits or unions, they’d never get hired to do their jobs – the cost would be too high.
A qualified roofer can earn anywhere between $14 and $28 an hour – more with experience, and much more with a union. Figure in overtime, it could cost as much as $400 a day per worker to do the job that one day laborer can do for $100. Any union man will tell you that you get what you pay for.
Economists have said that it is not the jobs that Americans won’t do, per se, but it is the wage that is substandard. Would a trained roofer, somebody who went through an apprenticeship program in the hopes of making good money, accept a hazardous job that probably does not meet trade union rules for $7 an hour like the three day laborers picked up on 69th Street? “Probably not,” Lemanski said.
Illegal immigrants make up about 4.9 percent of the labor force in this country according to recent reports, and the industries in which they work have historically paid low wages, and recently wages in these positions has dropped.
Illegal immigrants make up 24 percent of the workforce in farming, fishing a forestry industries, 17 percent in cleaning, 14 percent in construction, 12 percent in food preparation, 9 percent in manufacturing and 7 percent in transportation.
How do you combat the trend and make jobs more appealing to Americans – reverse the trend and raise wages. The effect on the economy would not be as drastic as it seems, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The average American family spends $370 a year on fresh produce. Of that money, about $65 goes to the farmer, one-third of which ($22) gets paid to laborers. If laborers got a 40 percent pay raise, which is now $8.83 an hour, and that cost was passed on to the consumer, the net effect for the consumer would be $9 a year but the effect on the laborer would be tremendous.