Garment Workers in New York City’s Chinatown after 1965

Seminar Paper, 2005

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0



I. Introduction

II. Conditions in Garment Factories
II.1. Poor Conditions
II.2. An Example: Xue Yan Huang
III. Accepetance of low-wage work
III.1. Women are Expected to Support their Families
III.2. Lacking Opportunities
III.3. Opportunities offered by the Garment Industry
III.4. Reference Group for Chinese Immigrant Women

IV. Characteristics of Chinese Immigrant Women in the 1980s

V. Summary



I. Introduction

In this research paper the focus shall be on Chinese workers in the garment factories of New York City’s Chinatown as an example of immigrant workers in the United States. After the Immigration Act of 1965, which abolished the national origin system and gave priority to the reunification of families, chain immigration in the United States of America started in large numbers. The most visible beneficiaries were the Asians because the quota system was abandoned for them. A lot of Chinese immigrants, especially women, entered the United States with this chain immigration. The high number of women amongst the immigrats was a reason that the former bachelor’s society – which means that the Chines male population outnumbered Chinese women in New York City on a large scale – turned into an almost well – balanced one. The labor force of the newly arrived women enabled the growth of New York City’s garment industry.

According to some statistics of Min Zhou and Regina Nordquist, the concentration of immigrant Chinese women in the garment industry was – and still is – extraordinary. Almost 85% of the work force in Chinatown’s garment industry are immigrant women, and the largest group of them are Chinese immigrant women (Zhou/ Nordquist 262). Because of the large-scale immigration after 1965 and the large supply of female work force, the garment industry of New York City’s Chinatown continued to be based on low-cost immigrant labor (Zhou/ Nordquist 261). Overall, more than half of Chinese women find jobs in garment factories. Because of the obvious dominance of Chinese immigrant women’s labor force in the garment industry, this research paper will concentrate on them.

Although these women earn only minimum or even lower wages, the labor force participation rate of them is exceptional high: 73% (Zhou/ Nordquist 264). Despite long wrking days and bad working conditions, it appears that Chinese garment workers do not feel exploited. In the following we will examine the situation of Chinese garment workers a little bit more in detail.

II. Conditions in Garment Factories

II.1. Poor Conditions

In Chinatown, New York, Chinese immigrant women are toiling in garment factories under illegal, inhuman conditions; even though most shops are unionized. Thomas Maier, an investigator for a magazine called Newsday, talked to Peter Kwong, the director of Asian Studies at Hunter College. This interview revealed the bad conditions in Chinatown’s garment factories.

Starting point for this shall be the factories themselves: the laborers often have to work in old dilapidated buildings, where it is too hot during the summers and too cold during the winters because of problems with ventilation and heating. The sewing-machines are often older than 30 years and lack safety devices. Furthermore, there are other unsafe conditions such as blocked aisles or exposed electrical wiring. In the interview with Maier, Kwong says that the “human” conditions are by no means better. Most Chinatown workers are forced to work very long hours, sometimes even up to 17 hours a day, seven days a week. The reason for this is surely that workers are paid by piece, which means: the more pieces, the more money. Although Chinese immigrant women are working very hard in the garment factories, they often do not even receive minimum wage. For most bosses of these factories overtime pay does not exist. In some factories there is also the problem of child labor.

After having had a look at the bad conditions in garment factories, it becomes obviously clear that the workers there are treated very badly and in an inhuman way. An investigation of Newsday suggests that female Chinese immigrant laborers endure the most severe exploitation of any immigrant group.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Garment Workers in New York City’s Chinatown after 1965
Dresden Technical University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Chinatown, Garment Workers
Quote paper
Stephanie Machate (Author), 2005, Garment Workers in New York City’s Chinatown after 1965, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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