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Wage Theft Among Latino Day Laborers in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Comparing Contractors with Other Employers


This study examines the nature of wage theft among Latino day laborers who participated in post-Katrina construction work. It addresses three important issues: (a) Is wage theft more prevalent in circumstances where there is very little enforcement of labor law? (b) Are professional contractors more likely to commit wage theft than other employers such as homeowners and small businesses? And (c) Do contractors and non-contractors who commit wage theft vary in the reasons given to justify their crime? Through survey interviews with 304 Latino day laborers conducted at four procurement sites across the city, respondents indicate that 78 % were victims of wage theft over the previous year (2008). Comparisons of wage theft across multiple studies expose the need for the development of a common conceptualization of a rate of wage theft and the benefit of using similar sampling frames to facilitate cross-comparison. Analysis reveals that there was no significant variation in the incidence of wage theft by employer type. Contractors and non-contractors did not differ significantly in the average dollar amount of wage theft, in the number of days worked before wage theft was committed, or in the hourly wage promised to employees. Contractors were, however, much more likely to justify wage theft by citing lack of funds than non-contractors.

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The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Dr. Patrick Walsh to the theory portion of this paper. Dr. Walsh, a scholar and a gentleman who is sorely missed.

The author also acknowledges the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) for providing the data which made this research possible. A preliminary version of this data was analyzed and reported in an executive summary presented to the New Orleans City Council in June of 2009. This presentation led to the passage, in 2011, of Resolution R-11-161 which established a special court for monthly hearings to process claims of wage theft regardless of the citizenship status of the claimant. For researchers interested in a copy of this dataset, please contact the NOWCRJ directly at

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Correspondence to Warren Waren.

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Waren, W. Wage Theft Among Latino Day Laborers in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Comparing Contractors with Other Employers. Int. Migration & Integration 15, 737–751 (2014).

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  • Wage theft
  • Day labor
  • Latino day laborer
  • New Orleans
  • Post-Katrina
  • Reconstruction
  • Labor
  • Subcontractor
  • Contractor