Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Seeking Work Daily: Supply, Demand, and Spatial Dimensions of Day Labor in Two Global Cities (1)

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Seeking Work Daily: Supply, Demand, and Spatial Dimensions of Day Labor in Two Global Cities (1)

Article excerpt

Introduction

The continuing trend toward non-standard (see Kalleberg 2000; Smith 1997), temporary (see Dale and Bamford 1988; Belous 1989; Parker 1994), and informal employment (see Williams and Windebanck 1998; Portes et al. 1989) in major cities around the world has roused the interests and apprehensions of social scientists and public policy professionals in recent years. These developments, theorized by some as an outgrowth of the new global economic order (Sassen 2000), are steadily transforming the nature of production, beating serious implications for the future of urban workers. Corporate executives being driven to their offices by gypsy cab drivers or having their homes cleaned by domestics; high-wage earning families purchasing homes in gentrified urban neighborhoods rebuilt by small independent subcontractors relying on day laborers; middle-class individuals consuming specialty foods and boutique clothing produced in the homes of immigrants or the sweatshops that employ them are but a sample of how the transfor mation of work has similarly changed the quality of life for urban dwellers and workers. Promoting informal economic activities at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, these new developments are undoubtedly changing the nature of work, labor relations, and life choices in urban centers.

Despite the wealth of literature on this topic, both theory and empirical research in this area have failed to recognize and study the informal economy in its full complexity. Macro-level perspectives, stemming largely from the globalization literature, tend to subsume, and thus homogenize, all unregulated economic activity under the rubric of the "informal economy." Such analyses portray modem economies as dualistic structures composed of a formal and informal sector, offering little insight into what comprises the informal economy, how its various components operate, and what macro-systemic mechanisms drive the generation of numerous forms of contingent labor and services. On the other hand, the existing micro-level research on various informal work activities tends to be limited in scope, as much of this research and its implications tend to focus on the particularities of a single locality (see Williams and Windebank 1998). In order to bridge this conceptual micro-macro chasm, research in this area must f irst attempt to disaggregate the informal economy into separate spheres of market activity and analyze how these activities are related to the regulatory framework of the larger economy. Secondly, research must move toward a comparative framework that gives systematic attention to the mutually reinforcing relationship between informal and regulated market activity across diferent national contexts. Such comparative work demands a high degree of clarity about factors and variables and the nature of the causal processes that are involved in particular outcomes in different contexts. In taking a first step toward this endeavor, we carry out a comparative study of day laborers, a growing class of informal workers, in two global cities--Los Angeles and Tokyo--drawing upon newly available survey data.

In large part, the lack of analytical rigor applied to studying the informal economy is due to the clandestine nature of unregulated market activity and thus a difficulty in obtaining the relevant data. As a result, numerous forms of contingent employment, like day labor, that are not easily captured through standard survey techniques and other traditional methods of research are rapidly expanding and entire segments of the labor market continue to go unexplored. Drawing upon new data collected in street-level surveys of day laborers in Tokyo (Marr et al. 2000) and Los Angeles (Valeuzuela 1999) we analyze in a more precise and methodical manner how this market operates and how it is functionally linked to the larger economy in two global city contexts. …

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