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An uneven crisis: The Great Recession and the service sector

To further understand the selectivity of return it is important to examine the impacts of the crisis on particular sectors in which Mexican immigrants were inserted (Levine, 2015; Villarreal, 2014). While the greatest number of Mexican immigrant jobs were lost in the construction sector—a finding that explains job loss among men from Pahuatlán—low-wage jobs in the service industry were less vulnerable, a finding that accords with Rothstein’s analysis of immigrant workers in New Jersey from Tlaxcala—a state adjacent to Puebla in Central Mexico (Rothstein, 2016). For example, in New York, some sendee industries experienced declines during the first part of the Great Recession (August 2008-March 2009) but recovered significantly in the months that followed (March 2009-September 2009). For example, restaurants, health care, social assistance (a category that includes home health care or elderly care) and other services (a category that includes dry cleaning, laundry services and personal care) made significant gains in the second per iod, a demonstration of the resilience of the low-wage service sector tied closely to social reproduction. These sectors employed Mexican immigrants like the Zapotitecos/as described in this book. On the contrary, construction, manufacturing and the banking and finance sector experienced significant declines in both periods (Fiscal Policy Institute, 2009).

Why was the low-wage service sector relatively unaffected by the economic crisis? The neoliberal restructuring of the economy changed the organization of social reproduction for native workers. As more native women entered the workforce, reproductive tasks were commodified and performed by immigrant women in the home (domestics, nannies, elderly care) or through men and women’s labor in commercial services (restaurants, laundry services, etc.) (Kofman & Raghuram, 2015; Parreñas, 2001). This process further accelerated because the provision of social reproduction by public institutions declined and there was no change in the gendered division of labor within the household. As Farris argues (2019), social reproductive tasks cannot be fully mechanized nor outsourced, and must be performed by living labor in close proximity to consumers. During the crisis, the industries performing social reproductive tasks did not experience the major cutbacks observed in construction and manufacturing, a finding scholars corroborate for Europe (Bastia, 2011; Farris, 2019). Similar to what Farris observed in Europe with racialized surplus populations (2019), the reserve army culled from disarticulated places like Pahuatlán and Zapotitlán

Crisis and transnational working classes 165 was transformed into the “regular” army of care, domestic and service workers. Pahuatecan women who left manufacturing switched to janitorial services and food preparation in their homes, selling food to other workers. This confirms the resilience of the sendee sector linked to social reproduction during the crisis. Immigrant workers in low-wage service industries, like the Pahuatecans and Zapotitecans described in this book, cannot be easily replaced by another group of workers at this time. In sum, the Great Recession had little impact on employment in the cheapened, feminized workforce tied to social reproduction in New York and North Carolina. When the crisis hit the construction and manufacturing sectors, on the other hand, workers in these industries, like Pahuatecan men, were more likely to face reduced hours and unemployment.

While examining how the crisis of social reproduction in the United States has been temporarily resolved with immigrant labor from Mexico was one objective for this study, we also attempted to shine a light on the changing conditions of the reproduction of Mexican migrants’ labor-power (Bhattacharya, 2017b). As discussed in Chapter 5, we agree with Fraser (2017) that while social reproduction is essential for capitalist accumulation, accumulation tends to destabilize social reproduction processes. For example, native women’s incorporation into the labor market beginning in the 1970s left unattended the social reproductive work formerly carried out in the home. This problem was “resolved” by the large-scale importation of Mexican immigrant labor channeled into social reproductive work in private homes and commercialized services.

Likewise, the cheapening and disciplining of "illegal” labor through the reclassification of Mexican immigrant labor as “illegal” (De Genova, 2005) and the disciplining power of the ever-present interior surveillance apparatus (Goldstein & Alonso-Bejarano, 2017) fortify accumulation, yet weigh like a nightmare on the immigrant population. They increase the number and intensity of challenges workers face to regenerate and replenish themselves in order to work the next day. Furthermore, these assaults on wellbeing are felt not only by those without documents, but also Mexican-origin US residents and citizens, who, while not the "official” target of surveillance and raids, feel as though they could be (Sabo & Lee, 2015). The struggle to maintain not only basic, biological needs, but to also maintain social life and develop human potentialities grows ever more difficult, particularly for illegalized and racial-ized Mexican immigrants. In mixed-status families, class differences created along the lines of migratory status fragment the very intimate spaces of family relationships (Boehm, 2012). We witness the inhumanity of the processes that produce differences and fragmentation among working classes and their impact on social reproduction. Pahuatecos/as who could not obtain driver’s licenses to transit freely and without fear on their way to work and school (Chapter 5), the pain of family separations across borders (Chapter 6) and the pain of realizing that the “sacrifices” of migration were not worthwhile because economic or educational aspirations were not attained despite years in the United States (Chapters 5 and 6) are only a few of the ways that “illegality” is lived by undocumented Mexican immigrants.

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