Inequalities and Prospects: Ethnicity and Legal Status in the Construction Labor Force After Hurricane Katrina

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Phuong Pham, Patrick Vinck, Laurel Fletcher, Eric Stover
Publication Date
December 14, 2009
Publication Type
Journal Article
Climate, Public Health


The arrival of Latino immigrant workers and the weakening of federal labor regulations after Hurricane Katrina raised concerns about labor conditions and workers’ rights. We carried out a survey of workers at 212 randomly selected addresses in the city of New Orleans, successfully interviewing 212 out of 351 workers approached (40% refusal rate). Workers were asked about their demographic, employment, and health characteristics, as well as violations of human rights they may have experienced. The survey was supplemented with in-depth qualitative interviews with Latino workers and key informants in Louisiana and Mississippi. Our study showed that Latino workers, particularly undocumented workers, experienced lower wages, more nonpayment of wages and/or overtime wages, and fewer worker protections than non-Latino workers. The poorer treatment of Latino and undocumented workers is thought to reflect employers’ perception of them as a disposable labor force. Indeed, few of the workers who arrived after Katrina, and especially low percentages of Latinos and undocumented workers, intended to settle in New Orleans.