Work, Welfare, and the Informal Economy: An Examination of Family Livelihood Strategies

Open Access
Slack, Timothy A.
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 22, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Leif Jensen, Committee Chair
  • Diane K Mc Laughlin, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • George Farkas, Committee Member
  • rural poverty
  • livelihood strategies
  • informal economy
In recent decades Americans have witnessed profound changes in the nature of work and the structure of the labor market. The economic uncertainties and dislocation of the current period have led many to question not only the changing relationship between formal work and economic well-being, but also the role of informal economic activities in advanced capitalist economies. These questions are particularly pertinent for those living in rural areas where working poverty has long been more prevalent and the social relations that foster informal economic activities are thought to be more widespread. This research pursues two separate but related lines of inquiry to shed light on these issues. First, drawing on nationally representative cross-sectional data this study assesses the changing relationship between formal employment and family economic well-being between 1980 and 2000, paying special attention to the differences between metro and nonmetro areas. Second, drawing on a combination of interview and survey data, this study provides a broader examination of family livelihood strategies in the context of nonmetro Pennsylvania, including participation in the informal economy. This research shows a rise in working poverty, and a steady convergence between metro and nonmetro areas in this regard over the last 20 years. Further, this research shows a distinct disadvantage suffered by nonstandard workers in nonmetro areas. This research also shows that participation in the informal economy is a widespread component of family livelihood strategies and explores important correlates of informal economic activity.