After the Storm: Houston’s Day Labor Markets in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

Author
Nik Theodore
Professor, Urban Planning & Policy
Senior Associate, Great Cities Institute
Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs

Abstract
On August 25, 2017 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in eastern Texas as a Category 4 storm, causing catastrophic flooding and widespread damage. It has been estimated that Harvey inflicted nearly $200 billion in property damage, initiating a recovery that will take years to complete.

In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, immigrant workers undertake many of the tasks that are needed to help residents and businesses deal with the damage caused to homes and other structures. In Houston, construction contractors, private households, and local businesses employ day laborers who are recruited from informal hiring sites located throughout the city. During disaster recovery, day laborers comprise a key workforce of “second responders” who take on demanding – and often dangerous – work helping residents and business owners with the removal of debris; the demolition of damaged structures; and the repair and rebuilding of houses, apartment complexes, and commercial properties.

This report examines the employment conditions of informally employed construction workers in Houston. Through a survey of 361 day laborers that was conducted a few weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, this report reveals how substandard conditions impact workers’ wages, as well as their health and safety on the job, and offers recommendations for improving working conditions during post-disaster recovery operations.

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