Monday, July 09, 2012

Corner of the labor market

I had occasion today to hire some men from a nearby truck rental place to help me with some manual labor.  They did good work and were well compensated.  We even seemed to enjoy each others company.  The two men who helped me say they had been at this for about 20 years.

I tried to learn a little about this part of the labor market.  Times are slow and the guys on this lot expect about three days of work per week.  Busiest days are Friday, Saturday, Sunday.  The number of day-labor candidates who show up each day is in synch with this rhythm.

Other than the expected odds of getting work, is there a check on supply? This is where it gets not so pleasant.  My informants report that race matters.  In a black neighborhood, the number of blacks "allowed" to wait for work is unlimited but the number of Hispanics is limited. In Hispanic areas, it's the other way around.

I cannot vouch for the generality of any of this.  But it makes sense.  Rules make the world go round and people come up with these.  By now everyone should know of Lin Ostrom's contributions on this and also Robert Ellickson's  That's the good news.  The bad news is that tribalism is still the basis for organization in so many places.


Many people have enjoyed T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain which is the author's patented take on the experience of Hispanic immigrants in LA.

A more than decent movie on the topic is A Better Life.