Marshall's Reviews > Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do

Working in the Shadows by Gabriel Thompson
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Apr 04, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: economics, non-fiction, politics
Read from March 07 to April 15, 2011

If you like Nickel and Dimed and The Omnivore's Dilemma, this is the book for you. The author spent a year working jobs in the largely invisible immigrant labor industry, doing work that everyone benefits from but nobody thinks about. He worked in lettuce fields in Arizona, a chicken plant in Alabama, a flower shop in New York, and a restaurant in New York. Most of the back-breaking work he did was minimum wage or lower. He tried to live the life of an immigrant, but his skin color made employers either distrust him or treat him better. Many people have opinions on the subject of immigration, and this author is no exception--he's very liberal--but you must read a book like this, to understand what this work is actually like, if you want to have an informed opinion.

I expected to be surprised by how terrible these work conditions are, but it all sounded eerily familiar, from the days I lived in poverty and did humiliating work for $2/hour. But it did help me appreciate how well I had it in other ways. At least I had other options, people who would support me if I wasn't too proud to accept it. I also had my rights as an American citizen. The fear of deportation is like an insurance policy that allows them to treat employees as bad as they want. These were advantages this author also had, which necessarily made it hard to truly report what this work is like.

Much of this book revolves around the people he meets, the solidarity and comradery he found in these jobs, which really makes this book touching. The managers seem to be pretty evil all around, but the co-workers can be very supportive, which was true for me when when I did this kind of work as well.
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