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February 18, 2014

Home Economics: the lives of domestic workers

The National Domestic Workers Alliance issued a report titled Home Economics which reveals much about the working conditions of domestic workers. A large share of domestic workers are immigrants.

Key findings in the report:

Domestic workers earn substandard pay, and enjoy little economic mobility or financial security.

Formal employment contracts are rare in the domestic work industry, and where work agreements do exist, employers frequently violate them.

Employers think of their homes as safe, yet domestic work can be hazardous.

Domestic workers who encounter problems frequently feel too vulnerable to stand up for themselves, especially live-in workers and undocumented immigrants.

The survey revealed that substandard working conditions are pervasive in the domestic work industry. Wage rates are low, the work is often hazardous, and workers rarely have effective recourse to improve substandard conditions.

A few of the facts in the report:

About a third of domestic workers nationwide are foreign born. About two thirds of domestic workers in major metropolitan areas are foreign born.
23 percent of workers surveyed are paid below the state minimum wage.
The median hourly wage of live-in workers is $6.15.
Less than 9 percent work for employers who pay into Social Security.
60 percent spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
85 percent of undocumented immigrants who encountered problems with their working conditions in the prior 12 months did not complain because they feared their immigration status would be used against them.

February 15, 2014

Trends in state immigration laws, from punitive to constructive

There has been a major change in state immigration legislation patterns State legislative activity rose in the late 2000s, taking on a punitive color, and rising to passage of the comprehensive Arizona law in 2010. That passage lead to other state laws aimed to driving out undocumented residents. All of these acts were challenged in court and some revisions results.

More recently, the focus of state legislatures is more constructive. There is a salutary recognition that states, their economies depending on undocumented workers, needed to provide these workers legal protections to drive. Also, state legislatures increasingly petition Congress to pass immigration reform at the federal level. For a detailed review of legislation, go here and here. The content below comes from these pages.

Latino Decisions notes that As of June 30, 2013, 43 states had enacted 146 laws and 231 resolutions focused on immigration. This is reflective of a larger pattern where state activity on immigration issues spiked from just 300 proposed bills and 39 enacted laws in 2005 to over 1,500 proposed bills and over 200 enacted state laws in 2009.

Omnibus laws.

The first omnibus act was Arizona’s 2010 legislation, SB 1070.

Omnibus legislation related to immigration enforcement has largely disappeared. In 2011, 30 states introduced more than 50 bills, with Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah enacting laws similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. Each was challenged in court. In 2012, five states considered similar bills: Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia. None of these bills were enacted. Alabama amended its 2011 law, HB 56, enacting HB 658 in 2012. In 2013, only Georgia acted, by amending E-Verify requirements, public benefit definitions, and driver’s license requirements, and required agencies or political subdivisions to comply with federal law on public benefits for postsecondary education (S 160).

Driving protections

Driver’s licenses and IDs continued to be a top issue for states, with 35 laws enacted in 21 states, comprising 19 percent of all enacted laws on immigration.

Eight states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont—joined New Mexico, Utah and Washington in extending driver’s license eligibility to unauthorized residents. Georgia and Maine enacted more limited laws in 2013. Georgia allows for a temporary driving permit for those with pending visa extensions. Maine exempts certain older or long-term driver’s license holders from the legal presence requirement. (A law passed in the District of Columbia is pending review by Congress.)

Formal resolutions in support of immigration reform

Resolutions spiked in 2013, with 31 states adopting 253 resolutions, up from 111 in 2012. The largest contributor was Texas, adopting 96 resolutions commending the contributions of immigrants and seeking federal action. Resolutions encouraged action by the president, Congress or federal agencies, including at least 11 resolutions related to passing comprehensive immigration reform (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania).

February 10, 2014

No immigration reform? Big cutbacks in farm production, higher food prices

The American Farm Bureau today issued a report that forecasts declining production and higher imported food prices if immigration reform is not enacted.

The report, Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform via Changes in Labor Costs and Availability, looks at three policy options: (1) enforcement only, as today, (2) general legalization, and (3) guest worker program for agriculture.

The report says that “the hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an enforcement-only scenario are fruit production, which would plummet by 30-61 percent, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15-31 percent. The study also pointed out that while many consider fruit and vegetable production the most labor-reliant sector, livestock production in the U.S. would fall by 13-27 percent.”

“Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the sector, higher food prices, and greater dependence on imported products.” Stallman said.

The report says that “For a number of reasons, agriculture serves as the bottom rung on the undocumented labor ladder. Many undocumented workers start working in agriculture but move on from agriculture as quickly as possible—particularly if/when changes in their legal status gives them entry into the labor market outside agriculture.”

The press release for the report is here.