Informal economies

Survival Economies: Black Informality in Chicago (2021).

  • Report Author: Nik Theodore (CUED), forward by Richard Wallace (EAT)
  • This study, conducted in partnership with Equity and Transformation (EAT), provides a systematic assessment of how inadequate employment opportunities in predominantly Black neighborhoods drive many Chicagoans into the informal economy.

“Regulating Informality: Worker Centers and Collective Action in Day Labor Markets,” Growth and Change 51(1): 144-160 (2020).

  • Article Author: Nik Theodore
  • Day-labor markets are characterized by chronic instability, low pay, and weak institutional protections against violations of labor standards. In the U.S., worker centers address these conditions through the operation of hiring halls that dispatch workers, set minimum wages, and redress wage theft. Surveys conducted in Seattle in 2012 and 2015 were used to evaluate wage rates, employment rates, and wage theft variables for workers at a worker center and those seeking employment at four informal hiring sites. Worker center members were found to have significantly higher wages, higher employment rates, and lower rates of wage theft than day laborers who search for employment in public spaces.

“Workplace Health and Safety Hazards Faced by Informally Employed Domestic Workers in the United States,” Workplace Health & Safety 67(1): 9-17 (2019).

  • Article Authors:  Nik Theodore, Beth Gutelius & Linda Burnham
  • Informally employed domestic workers encounter a range of workplace hazards, though these have been poorly documented and are typically left unacknowledged. Safety concerns include exposure to toxic cleaning products, a high prevalence of ergonomic injuries, and inadequate access to medical care. Presenting the results of an in-person survey of 2,086 informally employed nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers in 14 U.S. cities, this article documents the range of common health and safety hazards faced by domestic workers and suggests some interventions that could improve their working conditions. The survey was conducted in nine languages and data were collected from workers from 71 countries, including a substantial proportion with irregular immigration status. We observed that substandard workplace health and safety conditions are shaped by three aspects of domestic work: long-standing exclusions from federal employment protections, the common disregard of the home as a workplace, and the complexity of care work and the bonds of intimacy that often form through caregiving. Together these factors have served to perpetuate substandard working conditions. Regulatory reforms, as well as worker and employer education, are necessary to improve health outcomes for domestic workers.

Day Labor In Las Vegas. Chicago: UIC Great Cities Institute (2018).

  • Report Authors: Nik Theodore & Bliss Requa-Trautz
  • This report examines conditions in day labor markets in Las Vegas.