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America's 'shadow economy' is bigger than you think - and growing

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Perhaps the biggest surprise about America’s shadow economy is its size. Long associated with colorful street hawkers in the developing world, the shadow economy makes up a larger portion of the economies of countries like Greece (25 percent) or Mozambique (more than 40 percent) than it does in the US. But because America’s economy is so much bigger, its shadow economy amounts to nearly 8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) – in the ballpark of $1 trillion, estimates Friedrich Schneider, an economics professor at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. That’s bigger than the GDP of Turkey or Australia.

There’s nothing particularly ominous about the shadow economy – at least, not the one Professor Schneider measures. He doesn’t include illegal activities like drug trafficking or counterfeiting. The transactions he looks at involve the legal production of goods and services that are not taxed and may violate labor laws.

Ironically, as recession shrinks the official economy, the informal one is growing.

“People have less ability to earn money in the official economy. They work in the shadow economy,” Schneider says. “It will grow this year by 5 percent, at least,” in the US.


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