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Publication Date

Fall 2015

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Roberto Gonzalez

Subject Areas

Social research


This thesis investigates how individuals subsist by participating in the informal economy. Specifically it explores the lives of participants involved in three different sectors of informal economy in Oakland, California. Participants in the study include two sex workers, seven day laborers, and two individuals who sell narcotics. The purpose of this study is twofold: to humanize individuals who are involved in these forms of work who are otherwise viewed as criminals and problems to neighborhoods and to discuss the participants’ experiences that led to their involvement in the underground economy. I address these issues by asking the following questions: What are the factors that led participants to seek work in the underground economy? To what extent does working in the underground economy help or hinder participants’ upward socioeconomic mobility and participants’ involvement in the legal economy? Findings reveal that participants used the underground economy as a means to an end and that the underground economy served as a means for them to provide for themselves and their families. The answers to these questions are explored from an anthropological perspective that relies upon ethnographic methods of interviews, observations and use of secondary sources. The goals of this study are to contribute to the scholarly knowledge and understanding of informal economic activity and provide different perspectives of the underground economy and its participants.