Hot Issue: Shadow Workers

Until now, there were few hard facts about immigrant day labor. But this week urban planners from UCLA and the University of Illinois at Chicago will release the first national study of the shadowy labor pool, "On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States," a survey of 2,660 randomly selected day laborers in 20 states and Washington, D.C. The surprises? Researchers estimate that only 117,600 day laborers are looking for work on a typical day--and 25 percent are legal immigrants.

Workers average $10 an hour, but with work unsteady, few earn as much as $15,000 a year. Half the men say employers failed at least once in the preceding two months to pay them; half also said they received only partial payment. Safety is also an issue. One worker in five got hurt on the job, and 66 percent of the injured said they had to work in pain. Any fixes? The study's authors urge the creation of formal hiring centers run by local governments, churches or community groups to replace the hundreds of unsupervised parking lots and street corners where the vast majority of workers are hired.