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Cheap American Merch Comes at High Human Cost

Have you ever asked yourself how the big retail stores in the U.S. can offer such good deals? The answer: low-pay temporary labor — and not just in overseas sweatshops.

As of last month, there were nearly 2.9 million temporary workers in the United States, according to the Department of Labor.

These employees may spend years working in warehouses for big U.S. retail chains, but their contracts expire every day. It’s known as “perma-temping.”

The perpetual day laborers have no health insurance, no holidays, and no sick days. Many work up to 12 hours a day, with no overtime pay. They are also more likely to get injured on the job, according to an extensive investigation by the nonprofit ProPublica, which collected data in five states.

For example, in Minnesota the rate of accidents for temporary workers is 73 percent higher than it is for regular employees. In Oregon, it’s 67 percent higher; 50 percent in Florida; 46 percent in California; and 36 percent in Massachusetts.

“Temp workers are significantly at greater risk than regular workers,” says ProPublica’s Michael Grabell. He says that’s particularly true “when you look at things like crushing injuries or amputations.”

Univision Investiga and ProPublica contributed to this report.

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