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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Krista Brumley


Recent scholarship does not reveal enough about the nuanced experiences of the lived realities of women’s and men’s lives in a post-welfare reform and post-recession environment. Furthermore, women’s economic and social activities and strategies are less well-researched, a serious limitation because many women, as heads of household, continue to comprise a significant proportion of the poor and working poor in urban America. The purpose of this dissertation is to understand and explain the conditions of and responses to contemporary urban poverty.

Drawing on data collected during extensive ethnographic fieldwork of one Detroit neighborhood, Dtown , this dissertation addresses three questions: 1) How are poor and working poor residents, many disconnected from the labor market or welfare state, “getting by?” In particular, what income-generating activities and strategies do residents engage in, who is involved, where are activities conducted, and what type of “income” is generated as a result? 2) How does space operate, especially for urban residents, many of whom are physically and socially isolated? In other words, how do space, spatial arrangements and practices, shape these income-generating activities and strategies? 3) How does race and gender (intersecting with spatial designations), further shape these income-generating activities and strategies?

To answer these questions, I have built on feminist critiques and models of work (Glucksman 2009, 2005, 1995; Taylor 2004) to develop an analytical framework, Multidimensional Income-Generating, Sourcing, & Packaging (MIGSP), to explain informal responses to urban poverty today. This updated framework addresses some of the theoretical and conceptual questions not easily or thoroughly accounted for in traditional models of employment or current measures of poverty. MIGSP, a holistic assessment of (individual and household) income-packaging in cash-poor conditions, demonstrates that there is not a singular strategy or approach to coping with urban struggles. Instead, a diverse range of social and economic activities and strategies are conducted to income-package and “get by.” I demonstrate how the pervasive “hustle” is precarious and unsustainable among residents. Importantly, this model challenges dichotomous definitions (of work, income, and space) without categorically or punitively criminalizing economic and social activities. By reevaluating how work is conceptualized (where it takes place, and how and when it is compensated), we can, first, better understand survival amid poverty conditions and, second, address the inherent issues.

I illuminate the litany of structural barriers and highlight how residents actively resist these cumulative disadvantages with a range of complex and/or hidden strategies. Intersecting identities of race and gender shape these income-generating activities and strategies that poor individuals, families, and households use to “get by” or “get ahead.” This research shares the narratives and experiences of Detroiters, many of whom consistently hustle in ways that are not necessarily defined as “work” by the scholarship. In his research among the working poor, Shipler examines solutions and argues: “The first step is to see the problems, and the first problem is the failure to see the people (2004: 11).” In the spirit of Shipler’s argument, this critical analysis seeks to ensure that these individuals and families, many too poor to engage in daily society (Edin and Schafer 2015), are seen and heard. The hustle that is the everyday reality for many is an extension and an embodiment of the city of Detroit and its residents.

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