The readers have spoken... unskilled labor in the United States should be making between $10-12 / hour. In Southeast Detroit, this wage scale is pretty prevalent. Due to the past Auto Industry & Union wage scales, most construction, landscape, & home improvement contractor had to pay this rate of pay to keep any reasonable worker. In other States and more remote areas of Michigan, I believe the scale would be more in the $7-9/hour range. A fellow contractor once said to me that," It's better to overpay unskilled workers than not to have any at all!". Most of us all started out in some business being an unskilled worker. The best way to gain experience and training is to start at the entry level and work your way up.
My experience has been that if I did not start unskilled workers in the $10-12/hour range, it was hard to get anyone to answer a want ad. Only until this recent downturn in the economy of Michigan was I able to hire people at $9/hr to start. After 2 weeks, they qualified for $10/hr. All the worker had to do was show up each day of work, be on time, and perform the task he was asked to do. I am shocked at the number of workers in this country who can NOT do this basic job requirement. Contractors in the past would require a worker to have excellent performance skills to receive such wages or raises. Now you have to financially reward workers to just show up for work! At least, that is what the worker expects these days.
The unskilled work force was revived somewhat the past 10 years by the influx of immigration workers in the Detroit area. It is a general myth that contractors hire immigration workers, say half the pay, of naturalized citizens. My experience has been that I hire immigration workers at the same start pay. They are very aware of the need for unskilled workers who will show up, work long hours, and work many consecutive days when needed. The smart thinking of any unskilled worker is to get as much overtime hours as possible. The remarkable thing I have seen in the past few years is that the unskilled immigration worker is beginning to exhibit the same lack of "work ethics" of the young naturalized citizens.. coming in late, not showing for work occasionally, complaining about too many hours, etc.. . This was unheard of 5-10years ago,
That famous line from Ted Knight in Caddyshack, "The world needs ditch diggers too!" does have meaning. Imagine if we have very minimal manual labor force! We take for granted the men and women who dig, trench, pave, construct, and assemble all the things we use on a daily basis. Imagine if we were a Do-it-Yourself society. If you think your wife is on you now for not putting the seat down, imagine her anger when you have not dug that fresh hole for your outdoor commode!