Irish Travelers - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Irish Travelers began their itinerant occupations in the mid-1800s, tinsmithing or trading horses and mules. By the mid-1920s, some Irish Travelers began peddling linoleum and spray painting, while others continued to work with livestock. During World War II, a number of Irish Traveler families who owned stables provided the U.S. government with mules for the war. Most Irish Travelers were spray painting and peddling linoleum by the 1960s and continue the occupations today. Many elderly Travelers receive Social Security benefits and also financial support from family members. Travelers are very proud of the fact that they do not take part in the welfare system in the United States.

Division of Labor. Irish Traveler women are not expected to work outside the home. Throughout their history in the United States, the women have peddled various items such as Irish lace and handbags. Only recently have younger, unmarried women entered the labor force with non-Travelers. Owing to their low educational level, lack of skills, and the suspicions held by non-Travelers, Irish Traveler women must often take factory jobs, but are expected by the Traveler Community to quit their jobs once they are married. Traveler women are responsible for all aspects of the home and the children, including managing the money earned by their husbands. Most transactions are in cash, from paying for dinner to purchasing a new truck. Trading and bartering are still used by Travelers in business dealings. Irish Traveler men are expected to work until their health becomes a problem. Elderly women are not expected to peddle goods, but are responsible for helping raise the grandchildren. Many elderly women remain in the villages throughout the year and do not travel with their married children as was the practice in the past.

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