Your Money

Getting Paid Off the Books in America

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

On a recent day in Washington, D.C., Carlos Juarez of Guatemala waited on a street corner to find day labor. Juarez is part of America's underground economy. So are casual sports gamblers. Office worker Gary Gibbs, speaking at a Maryland sports bar, says that betting in an office pool might be illegal, but it's like jaywalking.


In many parts of the country, construction is a significant part of the underground economy. In Washington, D.C., men from Central and South America gather near a job site, hoping to be picked up for odd jobs.

Mr. CARLOS JUAREZ (Construction worker): (Through translator) My name is Carlos Juarez. I'm from Guatemala. Sometimes I do woodwork, masonry, demolition and painting. The amount of money varies, depending on the season, because when it's cold we work less. But when it's warm, you can make more money. But I would estimate I make around 300 a week.

I don't think what I do is illegal. I've always said that work is a person's right. In whatever country they live, people have to work in order to live. I think the majority of people don't report their earnings because they don't have a regular job.

One could report earnings when they pay us in checks. But for one day or two of work, it's easier for a boss to say I'll pay you day by day. I'll pay you so much. And then they pay you in cash. You can't prove that you're working because you don't have documentation.

NORRIS: That was a day laborer named Carlos Juarez on a street corner in the nation's capital earlier this week. The underground economy also reaches into the middle class and places like sports bars.

Mr. GARY GIBBS (Database Administrator): My name is Gary Gibbs. I am a database administrator for a hospital. And every year we have an NCAA pool. We also have a SuperBowl pool. Annually I probably bet maybe about $50 a years. I have won it a couple of times. Winning it means you win about $250. Taxes absolutely do not come into consideration whatsoever when we talk about these pools. We know this is illegal. But it's illegal like jaywalking is illegal. It's illegal like going 60 on a 55-mile-an-hour zone is illegal. I don't worry about getting caught by the police or anything like that. I have worried sometimes that there may be implications on my job, so that's why we always make sure that top management is involved whenever we do these things.

NORRIS: That was Gary Gibbs of suburban Maryland.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from