Day laborers are workers who are hired for and paid by the day. Although there has been much controversy recently surrounding day laborers, day labor is not a new phenomenon. We traditionally associate day laborers with the men (and on occasion women) who stand on urban street corner or parking lots, waiting to be hired by employers, most often contractors and homeowners.
Day labor work has been in existence in the United States for centuries. In the early days of the country, day laborers were regularly hired as longshoremen, or dockworkers. These workers arrived at the docks each day, seeking work for the day, and they were traditionally the new immigrants or other marginalized group (e.g., Chinese, Irish, African-Americans, etc.). For many, this work often represented a vital--and, at times, only--way to gain entry into the job market.
Although there have only been a few comprehensive studies that document the current day labor population, it is clear that they remain a diverse group. Little of the media coverage about day laborers reveals this complexity.