Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
How the Other Half Works

How the Other Half Works: Immigration and the Social Organization of Labor

Roger Waldinger
Michael I. Lichter
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 299
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppzw7
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    How the Other Half Works
    Book Description:

    How the Other Half Workssolves the riddle of America's contemporary immigration puzzle: why an increasingly high-tech society has use for so many immigrants who lack the basic skills that today's economy seems to demand. In clear and engaging style, Waldinger and Lichter isolate the key factors that explain the presence of unskilled immigrants in our midst. Focusing on Los Angeles, the capital of today's immigrant America, this hard-hitting book elucidates the other side of the new economy, showing that hiring is finding not so much "one's own kind" but rather the "right kind" to fit the demeaning, but indispensable, jobs many American workers disdain.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93617-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. PART ONE How the Other Half Works

    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-28)

      Across the threshold of the twenty-first century, America again finds itself transformed by immigration. Stretching back nearly four decades, the immigrant tide has yielded newcomers in unprecedented numbers. Evidence of a changed nation shows up wherever one goes. Venture deep into the heartland, and one runs into foreign accents; dig a little deeper, and one encounters the networks that link the immigrants and the institutions that sustain them.

      But the most impressive signs appear in the country’s chief urban concentrations. Travel to New York or Los Angeles or Miami or San Francisco, and the sounds are those of the tower...

  6. PART TWO The Social Organization of Labor

    • CHAPTER 2 What Employers Want
      (pp. 31-41)

      As we enter the twenty-first century, Americans sense that we are moving toward a new world of work. As symbol of the emergent workplace reigns the computer, pervasive if not ubiquitous, with the revolution engendered by the microchip likely to entail both promise and peril. Total liberation from the drudgework of the industrial era may not be at hand, but automation is freeing human labor from the difficult, dangerous, and tedious tasks associated with the factory. Production is increasingly the domain of highly educated workers equipped with the technical skills needed to master and control the new technology; blue collars...

    • CHAPTER 3 Doing the Job
      (pp. 42-62)

      The vernacular distinguishes between skilled and unskilled jobs. So too does the sociological literature, alas, accepting the everyday, taken-forgranted preconceptions when precisely these assumptions should be put in question. As we argued in the preceding chapter, jobs may be called unskilled but the label oversimplifies dangerously; virtually all positions entail knowledge or abilities neither universally shared nor trivial. Almost regardless of the task, occupants require “working knowledge” to do a job right.

      This chapter takes the discussion from the academic literature to the concrete reality of the entry-level jobs in the industries we studied. In our interviews with employers, we...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Language of Work
      (pp. 63-80)

      The immigration debate seeks enlightenment, but too often involves a cacophony of voices talking at cross-purposes. The economists, for example, have been worrying whether immigrants are of “declining quality,” a phrase which, translated into English, means that the skills of the most recent arrivals are less “favorable” than those of their predecessors. Although the controversy shows no clear resolution, we do know that a large portion of today’s immigrants comes to the United States without the formal schooling that the typical employer takes for granted, and this lack of schooling, as the economists rightly note, impedes the immigrants’ economic progress....

  7. PART THREE From Market to Work

    • CHAPTER 5 Network, Bureaucracy, and Exclusion
      (pp. 83-99)

      Whom you know has much to do with what you do. Most job-seekers activate their social connections to find jobs. Employers use ties linking the workers whom they know to the new people they may like to hire. Why do social networks so heavily influence the way workers find jobs and bosses find help?

      The answer has several parts. First, networks serve as conduits forinformation, telling job-seekers about opportunities and informing employers about the characteristics of applicants. Second, the same social connections function as instruments ofinfluence,allowing job-seekers to put themselves on the “inside track” by proxy. Third,...

    • CHAPTER 6 Social Capital and Social Closure
      (pp. 100-120)

      Every business needs to fill positions from time to time. From the organization’s point of view, filling a position meansrecruitinga pool of hopefuls,screeningfor the most suitable candidates, andselectinga new hire from among the best candidates. In practice, the steps can be collapsed into one, as in the case of the sole proprietor who literally hires the first person through the door, or they can be telescoped into an elaborate multistage process starting with the receptionist who gives out the application and ending with the personnel chief who makes the final decision. In our interviews,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Bringing the Boss Back In
      (pp. 121-138)

      Family and ethnic ties are alive and well within modern organizations, for reasons having to do with the efficiency consequences of network hiring. The persistence of personal relationships signals that particularism has not been destroyed by universalism—far from it. But we cannot conclude that particularism is again triumphant. Rather, particularism and universalism remain in tension; the social ties among workers can threaten managerial authority, fail to provide the predictability desired by organizations, and threaten to weaken organizational legitimacy, a threat especially important when the clientele consists of a multi-ethnic public. Thus, the slicing of the ethnic pie is not...

  8. PART FOUR Prejudice, Preferences, and Conflict

    • CHAPTER 8 Whom Employers Want
      (pp. 141-154)

      Social science thinking about discrimination grew up in a simpler, if uglier, America of binary Euro-American/African-American relations. In thatb/wworld, to borrow language from Gary Becker’s pathbreaking treatise,The Economics of Discrimination, the relevant questions had to do with the consequences ofw’s aversion for interacting withb’s. Whites might prefer to avoid contact with blacks, as the economists thought, in which casewemployers enduring psychic discomfort as a result of hiringbworkers would deduct the costs fromb’s wages; similarly,wskilled workers would insist on a wage premium to offset the unpleasantness of coexistence with...

    • CHAPTER 9 “Us” and “Them”
      (pp. 155-180)

      For the most part, the literature on discrimination tells a story about actions taken because of aversion towards specific “others.” But it might be better to begin with an understanding of preferences for those like oneself, in which case the sociological literature that has emerged from the study of ethnic enterprise provides particularly fertile terrain. In general, we anticipate a preference for insiders over outsiders on grounds of ethnocentricity alone. The sociological research concerned with ethnic entrepreneurs and their workers actually is somewhat different, painting a picture of an employer whose preference for others of his or her “own kind”...

    • CHAPTER 10 Diversity and Its Discontents
      (pp. 181-202)

      Bosses select workers, but not always as they wish. For all the importance of employers’ preferences and prejudices, other considerations frequently come into play. The nature of the hiring process may preclude, or at least limit, the ability to act on one’s desire for workers of one type, or one’s discomfort with workers of another. In small shops or factories, where the lines of authority are clear and influence is tightly controlled by a single boss, preferences can be translated into action with relative ease. In larger organizations, the matter is more complicated, as more players and views require accommodation....

  9. PART FIVE Ethnicity at Work

    • CHAPTER 11 Black/Immigrant Competition
      (pp. 205-217)

      “On the backs of blacks?” asked Toni Morrison in a 1994 essay, contemplating the role of “race talk, the explicit insertion into everyday life of racial signs and symbols that have no meaning other than pressing African Americans to the lowest level of the racial hierarchy”¹ in the assimilation of newcomers into a racially stratified society such as the United States. The question arises naturally in the context of today’s immigration debate, after having served as a fulcrum of controversy among scholars and advocates for more than two decades. The reasons for concern are not difficult to discern. Immigrants are...

    • CHAPTER 12 Conclusion
      (pp. 218-234)

      America entered the twentieth century in the throes of a mass migration; it began the twenty-first century in much the same way. Like their predecessors, today’s new arrivals cluster at the bottom of the skill spectrum, many arriving with few of the proficiencies that the native-born enjoy. Like the immigrants of old, most of today’s less-educated newcomers hail from countries where the industrial structure has not caught up to that of the United States, limiting the degree to which skills can be transferred from back home.¹ As before, the racial status of the newcomers is in question—although the transformation...

  10. APPENDIX: The Local Context
    (pp. 235-252)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 253-276)
  12. Index
    (pp. 277-285)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-286)