LAUREL, Miss. - The work has always been stupefying and hard. Hour after hour standing on the line, soldering or welding or drilling in screws until tears join streaming sweat and hands cramp in pain.
Even in today's nightmare economy, most people wouldn't want this daily grind that steals the soul in 12-hour shifts paying as little as $280 a week, before taxes.
But such labor prospers here in mostly rural Jones County, home to Laurel, where the area's biggest employer, Howard Industries, maintains a sprawling factory that builds electrical transformers and other big equipment behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
Assembly lines like these offer tenuous lifelines to those desperate enough to toil on them. And sometimes, competition for these jobs pits have-nots against have-nots.