There's a new book out by the economic sociologist Sudhir Alladi Venkates, once again on the functionings of the economy in the Chicago ghetto. His basic thesis is that, in impoverished urban neighborhoods, residents are largely isolated from the nation's larger, formal economy, and so have forged an underground economy that dips in and out of crime. This rings true with my limited experience of life in Chicago's poor, marginalized neighborhoods. It also gives the lie to the idea that ending extreme poverty in the world (defined as making less than $1.25 a day) will end many of humanity's worst problems. I mean, if even homeless people or people living off the informal economy in Chicago's impoverished areas are making $10, $20, or $60 a day, and they still have to face hunger, violence, and early death from preventable health problems, then it is evident that simply moving someone's income beyond a defined threshold is not enough to address the problems of absolute, grinding poverty.
On another note, I am somewhat distressed that my hometown of Chicago is becoming increasingly identified in the public mind with desolation, decay, violence, and glaring inequality. We're like the poster child now for urban dysfunction in the 21st-century US.