Latino day laborers (LDLs) are a marginalized group of immigrants who are mostly male, undocumented, and employed in an unregulated labor market rife with workers’ rights abuses. Many migrate to the U.S. alone for better economic opportunities to support family in country of origin. In the U.S., LDLs experience structural and social barriers to social integration, such as limited English proficiency, poverty, and undocumented immigration status. Further, their social characteristics (single men, living apart from family, lower levels of education) may serve as risk factors for social isolation. This is significant as research has found social isolation to be associated with poorer physical and mental health outcomes among various populations. In recognition of its robust role in health outcomes, social isolation has been identified as one of the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work. However, little is known regarding how social isolation impacts a marginalized group of immigrant men such as LDLs who lack access to health and social services. This qualitative focus group study is one of the first to elucidate a participant-informed description of LDLs’ lived experiences of barriers to social integration, social isolation, and its impact on health.
Seven focus groups were conducted with LDLs (N=32) in Baltimore. Using an ethnographic methodological approach, an adaptive sampling methodology with elements of field intensive outreach, and targeted snowball sampling were used to recruit LDL participants from two day labor sites. A vast majority of the sample consisted of single, undocumented immigrant men from Mexico (42%), Honduras (32%), Guatemala (13%), and El Salvador (13%). Focus groups conducted in Spanish lasted approximately 60-90 minutes. Dedoose was used for analysis and was guided by social ecological theory to elucidate the multidimensional levels of oppression pervasive in the everyday lives of LDLs.
Participants indicated that structural conditions such as racism and discrimination, undocumented immigrant status, lack of access to needed health and social services, and limited English created barriers to integration in their communities. This lack of social integration contributed to pervasive feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and despair. LDLs relayed self-medicating through alcohol use and some indicated drug use to cope with such hardships. Feelings of social isolation were mitigated through LDLs’ shared sense of collective identity as Latino day labor men, cultural values and guidance, and connection with families in their country of origin.
Conclusion and Implications:
This study advances one of the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work through the development of formative knowledge regarding social isolation among LDLs with the potential of advancing a conceptual framework to generate further understanding of social isolation in a hard-to-reach population. Findings highlight the importance of social inclusion and connection in the lives of LDLs and the structural conditions that serve as barriers to integration and exacerbate feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Additionally, this study highlights the important role of policy and social service initiatives in facilitating bonds with family in country of origin as well as the local community.