Identifying a convergence of factors, including a large and eager supply of immigrant labor and a $54 billion-per-year construction industry, NPR has documented widespread “wage theft” in Texas, with many workers being paid about half of the federal minimum wage or even less.
The NPR story references an extensive University of Texas, Austin report (available here) that examined Texas’ working conditions and found low wages and serious safety risks to be a staple of the state’s construction projects. The safety findings are especially stark. Though often assailed for its excessive regulation (and thereby used as a counterpoint in Texas’ marketing campaigns), California has an exceptionally low workplace fatality rate: 5.2 per deaths per 100,000 workers, well below the national average of 8.8. Texas (going big, as it often does) has the highest death rate in the country at 10.7 per 100,000, more than double that of California.
While NPR and the UT report cited numerous forms of malfeasance, the most popular appears to be misclassifying ordinary workers as “subcontractors,” which allows employers to essentially treat workers like they are independent companies rather than employees. Employers use this tactic to circumvent labor and employment laws (which provide workers with basic entitlements such as overtime, meal breaks and rest breaks), and avoid paying Social Security and payroll taxes. Thus, in addition to robbing vulnerable workers of their hard-earned wages, these fraudulent transactions cost Texas and the federal government billions in revenue every year.