It’s a bright Thursday morning and 10 men are outside the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective. Inside another 30 men sit in the waiting room. A few check e-mail and Facebook on the four computers available. In the back, a thin man plucks the strings of a guitar. All of the day laborers are waiting patiently for their names to be called for work.
By 11 a.m. no one had been called.
Although San Francisco is in the midst of a building boom, workers at the Day Labor Program, located at at 3358 Cesar Chavez Street, are still struggling. If you are lucky, said one of the workers, your name may be called three or four times in month.
“The [bad] economy that affected so many lately has been getting better, but not here. Not with us,” said Marco Figueroa, a 40-something worker.
Before the 2008 recession, Figueroa said, he worked steadily. And for a brief moment at the beginning of the poor economy there was still plenty of work because employers were seeking the cheapest labor possible, he added. But then the jobs disappeared and never really returned.
A recent report by the National Employment Law Project found that the United States has recovered from the recession’s job loss, mostly in low-wage industries. There are 1.85 million more low-wage jobs than when the recession started, according to the report. However, mid- and high-wage jobs have not reached their pre-recession levels.
This is not the case for Mission District day laborers, said Emiliano Bourgois-Chacon, director of the Day Labor Program. He said that work has not picked up for the men who seek their services — but it has for the women. Most of the women work as housekeepers or nannies, and according to the director work has increased by about 15 percent for the Women’s Collective.
He’s unclear why women are faring better, but the increase in household work might be coming from a new wave of residents who can afford help. The women earn $70 for the first three hours, and $15 and hour for every additional hour.
The men at the day labor center mostly get called for construction, landscaping, and moving jobs. They earn $50 for a minimum of three hours, and $15 every following hour.
Many of the men end up getting jobs on their own, usually by standing outside at other locations, although the day laborers here said that they prefer the center because the minimum pay has already been established.
But work has been so slow at the center, that the staff thought some men were returning to their home countries (an idea that could not be independently confirmed).
In November, a Pew Research Center report said remittances to Latin American countries have recovered since the recession – except for in Mexico. The World Bank projects international migrants are expected to send $436 billion to their home countries this year.
At the Mission’s Day Labor center, Santiago Soto said he has cut back on sending remittances to his mostly adult family in Guatemala.
“When I can, I send them money, but I’ve told them not to rely on me,” said Soto, an older man with grey hair and mustache. At one time he had employers who would regularly hire him directly for handyman gigs a few times a month. Now he relies mostly on the work from the center.
Recently, Soto has had to tell his family that work is not going so well:
“So don’t count on me, because I can barely make ends meet.”