Detroit’s Underground Economy: Where Capitalism Fails, Alternatives Take Root

The city’s so-called renaissance has reached only small portions of its 139 square miles, leaving much of the population—which is more than 80 percent African-American—behind.

But over decades of poverty, Detroiters have learned to get by without access to traditional cash or credit. There’s a resilient informal economy rooted in neighborhoods and communities: Barter, gifts, time trading and underground businesses are ubiquitous.

Take the vibrant network of off-the-books enterprises such as beauty salons in basements, auto repair shops in back alleys and garages, and, as in Luis Bustos’ case, restaurants in people’s homes.

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