Catching Out (Hardcover)

The Secret World of Day Laborers

By Dick J. Reavis

Simon & Schuster, 9781439154793, 203pp.

Publication Date: February 16, 2010

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (2/16/2013)

List Price: 23.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Reavis reported to a labor hall each morning hoping to “catch out,” or get job assignments. To supplement his savings for retirement, the sixty-two-year-old joined people dispatched by an agency to manual jobs for which they were paid at the end of each day. Reavis writes with simple honesty, sympathy, and self-deprecating wit about his life inside day labor agencies, which employ some 3 million Americans. .

Written with the flair of a gifted portraitist and storyteller, the book describes his days on jobs at a factory, as a construction and demolition worker, landscaper, road crew flagman, auto-auction driver and warehouseman, and several days spent sorting artifacts in a dead packrat’s apartment. On one pick-and-shovel job, Reavis finds that his partner is too blind to see the hole they’re digging. In each setting, he describes the personalities and problems of his desperate peers, the attitudes of their bosses, and the straits of immigrant co-workers..

This is a gritty, hard-times evocation of the sometimes colorful men and women on the bottom rung of the workforce. It is partly a guide to performing hard, physical tasks, partly a celebration of strength, and partly a venting of ire at stingy and stern overseers. Reavis wants to make the point that physical exertion, even when ugly, painful or unpleasant, remains vital to the economy—and that those who labor, though poorly paid, bring vigor, skill and cunning to their tasks. .

Praise For Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborers

"A first-person dispatch from the bottom rung of the American ladder, the world where six bucks an hour is great work if you can get it. Dick Reavis worked side by side with people most of us see right through. Clear-eyed and tough-minded in its portrayal of their fatigue, desperation, and hopelessness, it's also a powerful testament to their dignity, humor, and humanity. Memorable characters, invisible no more." -- William Broyles, Jr., author of Brothers in Arms: A Journey from War to Peace

"An unsentimental yet humane glimpse of life from under the American economy's floorboards. Immersing himself in the hitherto unexplored world of day laborers, Reavis reminds us of an unglamorous truth -- namely, that our nation's prosperity depends not just on captains of industry but also on the exertions of all-American roustabouts with monikers like Flat Top and Tyke and Real Deal." -- Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

"Dick Reavis crosses the class divide in modern America to join and bear witness to the day laborers who toil along society's margins. Catching Out reminds us of the dignity of manual work, and it also stirs our conscience about how frequently the men and women who do that work are exploited. In his appealingly modest way, Reavis carries on the tradition of John Steinbeck." -- Samuel Freedman, author of The Inheritance

"Dick Reavis reveals what he learned working among millions of day laborers on the bottom rung of our workforce. With this trenchant report he does what Barbara Ehrenreich did for women in Nickel and Dimed." -- Mario M. Cuomo