Microenterprise jobs provided opportunity and connections for individuals who had impediments to secure good jobs. Our study highlights the challenges of immigrant DREAMers, people with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated, mothers trying to keep resumes relevant, seniors, and workers without college degrees.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study AMARA SALES REPRESENTATIVE
“Able-ism transcends all other kinds of discrimination. I know a lot of disabled persons who would love to have this job.… They just aren’t given that opportunity.”
In Chicago, Amara, 29 years old, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. A flair for communication led to jobs in sales, first at a copier company and now at a local liqueur company where she does promotional activities. Amara travels to several events per week and works with other colleagues, offering tastings and talking about the fine liqueurs’ attributes. Amara says it is easy to become isolated without steady work and that this job gets her out of the house and interacting with people.

She is invested in the company’s mission, which emphasizes hiring workers with special needs. The owner created the company for his adult son, who also has cerebral palsy, because of the challenges he faced finding good employment opportunities. While she would like to work more hours, she has discussed further growth opportunities with the owner, who recognizes her potential.
Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study RUPERT SALES AND MARKETING
“It was really hard to find a job—or at least a job that would let me take care of four kids and take care of myself. This job gave me a chance to be part of something. And it’s faith-based. I would not be in this business without faith.”
After years plagued by addiction and several short prison stints, 37-year-old Rupert hit bottom, which he describes simply and powerfully as “I lost it.” Once clean and living in Chicago, his most important goal was earning enough to support himself and his four children.

With a criminal record and limited job history, Rupert floundered for a time seeking work in the moving industry, where he had at least some experience.

His extended family became his lifeline. His god-sister and her business partner, also a close friend of Rupert’s, decided to support him by leveraging his industry experience to create a small, faith-based moving business that would honor their values of fairness, respect, and second chances. Rupert believes that being part of this business, which he says enabled him to “keep God in the workplace,” keeps him off the drugs that had derailed his life. The decent hourly wage ($20) and full-time hours, together with the flexibility to take time off to care for himself and his family, affords Rupert opportunities previously out of reach.
Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study GABRIEL LANDSCAPER
“I like it [landscaping] because at the factory it’s always the same, and when there is not enough work, they will send you home without pay. Here there are more possibilities to work and in a stable job with one boss.”
Gabriel got to know the temporary employment agencies that abound in Chicago’s Little Village when he arrived from Mexico. The 33-year-old was ready to work but lacked skills, having the educational equivalent of elementary school and a work history as a laborer. However, besides the monotony of the factory work he did, the amount of work varied widely from week to week. Sometimes he worked an entire week or even two for a single company, but only a few days other times. Often, he would wait the entire day without being placed in a job. Those days he went unpaid.

Increasingly unable to make ends meet, and realizing these jobs would never lead to full-time employment, he decided not to return to the temporary agencies. Family networks connected him to a small landscaping company owned by a Mexican entrepreneur.

Gabriel enjoys the variety of the day-to-day work and has learned new skills. The most dramatic change is that now he works with and learns from one boss; at his short-term jobs, he worked for ever-changing supervisors of unpredictable quality. He thinks he will stay in landscaping but hopes to own his own business someday. Most importantly for now, he has steady hours and a decent income to support his wife and three children.
Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study CARMEN CHILD CARE WORKER
“I feel good. I feel self-actualized (realizada) because at my age it is not easy to find work. So I feel useful, and I like to have my day full.”
Sixty-five-year-old Carmen says that at her age, she needs to keep busy and keep learning things or she will start to fade. Her work as an assistant and the cook in a home day care is one of many careers she has held. She emigrated from the Dominican Republic more than 30 years ago, and went from being a garment factory worker to owning several small businesses, including a women’s clothing manufacturing company in Manhattan’s garment district and a restaurant in Santo Domingo. After a divorce, she spent time living with her daughter in Florida, where she always held at least two jobs, such as working full time at a deli and cleaning houses on the side. She had difficulty in finding steady work when she moved back to New York, a fact she attributed to her age. Before finding her current job through a family friend, she engaged informally in babysitting and private elderly home care. To secure her current job at the day care, she took a 15-hour course (which her employer paid for). She said that she thoroughly enjoyed the additional training because it kept her learning and provided access to a stable job.
Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study ALEJANDRO PROJECT MANAGER
“I felt frustrated back home in my previous job. I didn’t have a way to advance… (with this job) I’m gaining experience, American experience.”
Alejandro is a well-educated software engineer from Colombia who immigrated to the United States three years ago. Through his network at home, he was able to find work as a project manager at a small digital marketing company serving Hispanic businesses in Queens. Although he is making less than he was making in Colombia, he believes he is fortunate to have established a foothold in his field in the United States, and that there is opportunity for growth at this small enterprise. This first job has eased his transition to work in the United States.

“I know a lot of disabled persons who would love

to have this job [but] aren’t

given that opportunity.”