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Ethnographic Research on Underground Economy

Institute for Social and Economic Development

  • Program Education
  • Program Area Special Initiatives
  • Grant Amount $120,000
  • Grant Period April 1, 2002–March 31, 2003
  • Location Coralville, IA, United States
  • Geographic Focus United States

About this grant

The underground economy, in the context of this grant, refers to legal but underground work in the United States that utilizes a system of barter and cash-only transactions. Its existence suggests the possibility of underdeveloped human capital, for which society may pay a largely hidden price. Individuals who participate substantially in the underground economy may face greater obstacles to their own financial stability and growth in the long term.Funding will support a partnership, with the Aspen Institute, to conduct research on the underground economy in Baltimore and Chicago. Research will describe the parameters of the licit underground economy in two neighborhoods; determine what causes participation; ascertain earnings among participants; and analyze whether micro-enterprise programs can affect the market. Activities will include conducting a brief initial literature review to inform studies in the two cities; conducting ethnographic studies in the two cities; distilling findings from the research into preliminary reports for meetings of experts; sharing experiences with the Aspen team and the field at large; and working with Aspen to design the next phase of the study.The Institute for Social and Economic Development, founded in 1988, is a national leader in micro-enterprise development and micro-enterprise research.