On (Not) Getting By When You’re (Not) From America

“…But warnings about the heat and the allergies put me off, not to mention my worry that the Latinos might be hogging all the crap jobs and substandard housing for themselves, as they so often do.” [1]

Day laborers outside of Home Depot. Are these "crap jobs" Ehrenreich is talking about?

This is Barbara Ehrenreich’s explanation for why she chose to continue working on her book, Nickel and Dimed, in Minneapolis, MN, instead of Berkeley, CA. It would be difficult for Ehrenreich to experience what it is like to be a working class immigrant, since she’s a white American woman, so it makes sense that her does not focus this. There are some acknowledgements of the types of difficulties they must face, like George in Key West. George, from the Czech Republic, had to use an agent to get a job in the U.S. and give part of his paycheck to the agent. [2]

But overall, the hardships faced by immigrants are left out of the book, leaving the glaring question, “what do immigrants face when they come to America and is it different than the experience of U.S. citizens?”

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2003, the poverty rate for immigrants to the U.S. in 2000 was 17.8%. Recent immigrants faced a 22.4% poverty rate and the poverty rate for U.S. natives was 10.2%. The report does point out that this is down 7.9% for immigrants and 11.6% for recent immigrants since 1994, but there is still a noticeable gap between immigrants and U.S. natives. [3] The U.S. Census Bureau wrote in their report on poverty that the foreign-born population, which includes both naturalized citizens and noncitizens, had a poverty rate of 15.7 percent. [4]

In a 2009 press release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlighted some particular bits of data. Even with the recession, foreign-born workers, both citizens and non-citizens, represented 15.5% of the labor force. This is unchanged from previous years (15.5% hardly seems like “hogging.”).  The press release also says, “the median usual weekly earnings of foreign-born full time wage and salary workers were 79.1% of those of their native-born counterparts.” [5]

These statistics are just a tiny sample of the gap between immigrants, 50.1% of which are Hispanic, and U.S. citizens. While there are certainly plenty of people struggling to get by in these tough economic times, it is important to remember that there are struggles faced by foreign-born or non-citizen workers that U.S. citizens do not have to deal with. There is language, prejudices, the cost of getting to America, and finally trying to make it in an unfamiliar culture. As Ehrenreich demonstrates, it is hard enough to make it in America when you from here.

[1] Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed (New York: Holt Publishing, 2001), 121.

[2] Ehrenreich, 37-38

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Immigration and Poverty: How are they linked?” http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2003/04/art2full.pdf, accessed May 9, 2010.

[4] United States Census Bureau, “Poverty in the United States: 2000,” http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p60-214.pdf, accessed May 9, 2010.

[5] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics- 2009,” http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf, accessed May 10, 2010.

Categories: mc

One thought on “On (Not) Getting By When You’re (Not) From America

  1. Imagine working on wages less than those Ehrenreich was making, and then sending part of that income back to a family in another country.

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