New York's Underground Economy

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia professor of sociology and the author of Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy, offers a sociologist's view of New York's illicit markets -- for drugs, sex and undocumented labor -- and how they differ from Chicago's.


Comments [9]

BK from brooklyn

sudhir venkatesh is a master of misdirection when it comes to difficult questions about his ethics and research practices. he was a consultant on "big data"? see this comment of his on FBI work, for instance, prior to when the NYTimes broke that article about his mismanagement of Columbia's institute:

“I’ve got to say, I was pretty surprised to get a call from the FBI director and some of his senior staff. And they called because they’d heard a little bit about the work that I’ve done, for much of my life, on street gangs. And the way they explained it was that I was not (and never have been) a gang member, but I went into a community and learned a little bit about a group that was very different from the group that I had spent time with as a kid where I had grown up. And they said, you know, our officers; our staff, we do a lot of that. We try to go into places, we don’t know a lot about it, help us kind of figure out how to do it better.”

how is this different than anthropologists working for the military? and isn't he making it harder for other ethnographers to do similar work as well, and to gain the trust of informants working in illicit economies?

there's a whole contingent of sex workers in nyc too, who are distraught about venkatesh's research methods and his need to constantly troll for publicity:

Sep. 26 2013 11:18 AM
Dr dave ores from LES

Underground dollars... Cash... Is not stored in a mattress.
It is nearly all spent buying needed things the next day
Pampers. Food. Etc.
Which all becomes millions in sales tax, jobs.... Etc

So ALL those billions are quickly injected directly back
Into the main artery of our local economy

They are NOT lost dollars. quite the opposite.

Conversely, the well off / wealthy DO NOT buy
New disposable essentials when the get an extra
40,000 dollars. They just store it away as increased
"Wealth ".

Just saying

Sep. 25 2013 01:08 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

I also got audited. But, I am a licensed Home Improvement Contractor and I was audited by the NYS Dept of Labor. I was asked to pay for "unreported payroll" and I refused. The auditor didn't look at my financial records in a financial audit, but took my word for it that I did not employ anyone off the books. He said "everybody in your industry is cheating."

Home owners are not breaking the law, but in NYC, unlicensed contractors are subject to criminal penalties - not for taxes or insurance, but for violating consumer protection laws.

Workers' Comp fraud penalties are also severe. Workers paid in cash may not be insured and the insurance is expensive and rapidly increasing. For me, it went from 10 % of payroll to 20 % of payroll in 4 years - with no claims.

Care givers, mostly women, are employees of the families they work for according to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Home Improvement Workers, mostly men, are employees of construction firms even if they work for the same families, according to the Fare Construction Labor Act of 2010.

A high percentage of construction workers in NYC never build anything, but renovate small jobs, often working alone or in small groups. The Dept of Consumer Affairs has licensed only 1,400 contractors, but this may be less than 5% of the total number. Consumers do not want consumer protections, they want to pay workers as little as possible.

I believe the worker and small business loses. It is a big game, but why should only the worker be criminalized? If we had an honest system, I think the home owners would pay more for renovations. I expect and hope a more honest system would produce fewer complaints, better quality and longer-lasting renovations.

Sep. 25 2013 12:24 PM
Adam from NJ

The underground economy will grow because of student debt. More educated people will enter the underground economy.

Sep. 25 2013 12:00 PM
bk from brooklyn

it irks me when people use airbnb as an example of extra income, it is not. if i have to take time off work to visit family and need to pay my rent, i use airbnb, it's a sublet, nobody is making any money, it's simply a way to sublet and enable me to leave for a couple weeks without being evicted. there is no profit, if i couldn't sublet i couldn't pay the rent.

Sep. 25 2013 11:58 AM
Robert from NYC

Who cares!

Sep. 25 2013 11:57 AM
Dee from Montclair

I also got audited by the IRS, for renovations at an apartment in Brooklyn. They accepted the receipts from workers but wouldn't give me credit for materials bought in NJ.

Sep. 25 2013 11:57 AM
Asaf Soof from Times Sq

Air BnB - Regarding your guest comment. As a tax exper i can attest that Air BnB issues 1099-Misc to the "land lords" and that forces them to report the income on their tax reports. I actually find Air BnB to be a form on getting people into complying with tax rules.

Sep. 25 2013 11:56 AM
Jack in the Bronx from South Bronx

How about selling the entertainment value of those in the underground economy?


Sep. 25 2013 11:50 AM

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