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Local day laborers: Older, undocumented, undereducated

July 28, 2011 | 11:53 am

The average day laborer in Harbor City and Wilmington is 44 years old and has lived in the United States for nearly 17 years, according to survey results out of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

The Harbor-UCLA Summer Urban Health Fellowship conducted research and health outreach with the assistance of seven volunteer doctors,  nine medical students, 13 college students and 20 local high schoolers.

Their project’s findings were based on interviews with 158 day laborers in Harbor City and Wilmington.

The profile of these local workers differs from a national sample of day laborers based on research from 2004. That earlier study found day laborers had an average age of 34 and had been in the country an average of six years.

The local surveys found that 75% of the workers are not legal United States residents -- not surprising given the informal nature of day work and the difficulty of finding regular jobs without U.S. citizenship.

Other findings included:

-- More than half the day laborers found work less than 10 days per month; more than a fourth, less than five days
-- A third reported performing work they consider dangerous within the last month
-- Two-thirds reported doing work for which they were not paid within the last month.
-- Two-thirds reported their own health as fair or poor
-- More than 30% said they’d been “harassed by police” within the last month
-- 75% had not completed high school; two-thirds had not completed eighth grade

All but one of the day laborers surveyed were men.

Interviewers also asked why the laborers came to the United State and recorded their top four responses: 1) to find a better life; 2) to find employment; 3) to provide for families and children; 4) because they believed there would be more opportunities in the U.S.

“They are not coming here to use social services but because they want to work,” said
Chardonnay Vance, a participating medical student from Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Research guidelines did not allow the high school students to conduct the research, but they participated in other aspects of the program, including organizing community health fairs in the Wilmington area, which is underserved by healthcare providers.

About half the participating students came from Banning and Carson high schools. One high school alum of the program has returned as a volunteer doctor. The program is managed by two Harbor-UCLA physicians, Gilberto Granados and Jyoti Puvvula, who donate their time.

Virgilio Goze, 18, who just graduated from Banning High, volunteered each of the last four years in the summer outreach program, which is funded by donations from local politicians, medical centers and foundations.

“It pretty much gave me a wider world view,” said Virgilio, whose own parents have sometimes struggled economically since immigrating from the Philippines.

He’ll be attending UCLA as a premed biology major. He wants to be a family physician: “The general physician interacts with families. They are the first line. They actually talk to the patient. Those things really touched me.”

Another participant, Erik Ruiz, 16, will be entering the 10th grade at Banning High. He’s grown up with a severely disabled brother.

“I always wanted to know: Why would this happen to anyone?” he said. “I looked to the medical field for finding that question out.”

He plans on becoming the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college in his quest to become a doctor: “I love helping people. Giving everybody a smile makes me happy.”

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-- Howard Blume

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