Job or No Job? Rosa Ramirez Looks for Work

Temp towns have sprouted up across the U.S., where it’s difficult to find a blue-collar job except through a temp agency. Rosa Ramirez has been a temp worker for 12 years. | Related story »

Before four o'clock on a January morning, Rosa Ramirez, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant, gets ready to see if her temp agency has work today. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Rosa left Ecatepec, Mexico, where she struggled to raise her two sons on the money she earned selling beauty supplies as a street vendor. Now, 16 years later, she lives in one room of an old Victorian boarding house in Elgin, Ill., where she sleeps on a mattress on the floor. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

When she first arrived in the U.S., Rosa landed two full-time jobs. But for the past 12 years, she’s only been able to get temp work. In the boarding house, she shares a kitchen and bathroom with another family. Her belongings are lined up on shelves along one wall of her room. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

The rent for her room is $450 a month, which she splits with her boyfriend, who works as a carpet installer. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

At 4:18 a.m., Rosa walks into the temp agency Staffing Network, tucked in the back of a strip mall, signs in and sits down in one of the blue plastic chairs. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

For the next two hours, Rosa waits -- without pay -- to find out if she will be assigned a job for the day. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Lately, work hasn't come easy for Rosa. Two months earlier at Staffing Network, she had stood up and complained about working conditions for temp workers. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Workers board a school bus after being called by the dispatcher for a work order from Philips Norelco. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Rosa's morning ritual of showing up for an uncertain job is not unique. Across the U.S., temps work in the supply chain of many of America's largest companies, including Walmart, Macy's, Nike and Frito-Lay. Here, temp workers line up at Custom Staffing near Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 18. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

In New Jersey, workers gather early in the morning at temp agencies, like Brickforce Staffing, along French Street in New Brunswick to wait for vans to take them to warehouses off the Jersey Turnpike. (Melanie Burford for ProPublica)

Back at Staffing Network on that January morning, Rosa is among a few workers whose names have not been called. A little after 6 a.m., she learns that there is no work for her that day. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Five months later in June, Rosa continues her daily search, still unable to find a temp job that leads to full-time work. On this day, she checks in with several other temp agencies in addition to Staffing Network for work. (Christopher Morris, VII for TIME)

After three tries on June 10, she secures work for the day at D&R Technology, an automotive supplier, in Carol Stream, Ill. (Christopher Morris, VII for TIME)