They are a rather typical sight in suburbs across the United States: men, in their late twenties or early thirties, waiting at the curb for someone to hire them for a day or even for few hours.
All of them are Hispanic immigrants; some are undocumented.
They are day labourers and, for years now, they have accepted pretty much any job. The construction and housing industry provided them with most of the work.
“I’ve worked for many companies, in construction, landscaping… I’ve also worked remodeling apartments”, says Jorge, an immigrant from Guatemala.
Experts say that Hispanics have been hit hardest by unemployment since the beginning of the recession. In 2008, unemployment rose to 8% for Hispanics, from 5.1% - a 2.9% increase while the rest of the US population saw an increase of 2%.
Mario Quiroz works at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, MD, a facility where immigrants can wait for legitimate and serious employers without staying outside in the cold.
During the housing boom, pretty much everyone who showed up here in the morning would be hired for the day, remembers Quirioz.
Nowadays many spend weeks without working at all. Looking at photos from back home, some wonder if they would not be better off in their native countries. But the downturn can also be an opportunity.
The Casa de Maryland has set up a workshop where immigrants out of work can learn new trades.
Maurizio Martinez hails from El Salvador. He would rather be spending time studying now when jobs are scarce because he believes things will get better thanks to President Barack Obama.
“With the economic stimulus package approved by the president, things will get better. I can’t find work these days but, since I am taking classes, I will be able to get better-paid jobs later and improve my lifestyle”.
Hispanic immigrants were among the first victims of the recession. Educating themselves may be one way to ensure that the next time the US economy plunges they won’t be the first to suffer.