Illegal Labor

04.12.13

Texas Homes are Cheap for a Reason

Joe Raedle/Newsmakers ()

In Texas, being in construction means you probably are undocumented and you probably are being paid little or nothing at all (seriously).

While construction used to be a career path for the handy wanting a middle class life, nowadays construction companies cannot stay in business unless they use cheap and illegal workers.

This critical mass of eager, mostly Hispanic workers means it's possible for a family from New York or California to move to Texas and buy a brand new, five-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home for $160,000.

Guillermo Perez, 41, is undocumented and has been working commercial construction jobs in Austin for 13 years.

"[The employer] said he didn't have the money to pay me and he owed me $1,200," Perez says of one job. "I told him that I'm going to the Texas Workforce Commission, which I did. Then after that, he came back two weeks later and paid me."

The economic collapse of 2008 brought with it an onslaught of wage theft, according to the Austin-based Workers Defense Project. At the end of the week, construction workers sometimes walk away with $4 or $5 an hour, sometimes less, sometimes nothing.

This borderline slave labor cannot be blamed on any one person; it's systemic. But there is a long-term high unemployment rate, and it is easy to imagine that these jobs could be filled by handy Americans. Of course, just as long as it pays enough for rent and food.