Jess Bird F'17
Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2017
Do the Hustle: Municipal Regulation of New York City’s Underground Economy, 1970-Present
The United States’ underground economy has grown strikingly since the 1970s, reflecting consumer demand for cheap prices and workers’ search for alternative sources of income as manufacturing jobs declined and federal support for cities disappeared. Far from unregulated, however, the underground economy has been managed in crucial ways, revealing a fundamental paradox in free market rhetoric. This was particularly striking in New York City in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Facing budgetary pressure and calls from business and neighborhood organizations to clean up the city, politicians sought to simultaneously extract revenue from the underground economy and regulate it out of existence. By the end of the twentieth century, a set of uneven government responses to the underground economy increased mass surveillance over public space usage and contributed to rising income inequality in the city, cutting off needed sources of income for workers.