Marco A. Valadez

Major and Classification

American Studies & Ethnicity (Chicano Studies) and Economics

Faculty Mentor

Manuel Pastor, Ph.D.


Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

McNair Project

“How Social Normative Behaviors in the Day Labor Population of Los Angeles CHALLENGE Neoclassical Economic Theory”

Project Abstract

Although Neoclassical Economic Theory allows dominant notions of self-maximization and competition to be explained amongst groups of individuals in the marketplace, be it formal or informal sectors of the economy, social norms in the day labor population contradict these notions. Because day laborers display collaboration and group participation and not only competition in the labor force, it is important to understand how social normative behaviors in day labor population of Los Angeles challenge the idea the all people seek individualistic gain. While the 2009 financial crisis in the United States created awareness of the dominant structure of Neoclassical Economic theory, it is at the same time important to not only critique but explore other economic ideologies that can explain economic behavior in various populations across the nation. One of these economic ideologies points to Identity Economics, how people’s choices are shaped by their identities and not only the pursuits to maximize their individual self-interests. This study explores how social normative behaviors in the undocumented day labor population of Los Angeles CHALLENGE Neoclassical Economics Theory. It also puts into question ideas of economic “rationality” and competition. Grounded field research methods were used to interview ten foreign-born male day laborers between the ages of 18 and 70 years of age living in the metropolitan community areas of Los Angeles that participate in the work center of the Central American Resource Center. I found that social normative behaviors DO challenge Neoclassical Economic Theory. These social norms are as follows: collaboration, networking, organization, civic action, spirituality, in-group mentality, accountability, citizenship, and wage agreements all provide examples of how day laborers contradict neoclassical economics. These findings are significant because they demonstrate how economic “rationality” can be explained and challenged from a different perspective.