The pre-World War II economy was based almost exclusively on subsistence agriculture, supplemented in the higher mountainous areas by sheepherding or woodcutting. With the exception of some adjacent low-lying plains, most of the mountainous valleys and foothills were not especially productive, so that by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries poverty and starvation were common, causing massive emigration (especially to the northeast United States) in the decade before World War I. The meager staple diet consisted of potatoes, milk, and varying kinds of noodles; meat and fowl were rarities served only on holidays.
After World War II, the industrialization policies of Communist regimes resulted in factories to process wood and make building materials, shoes, textiles, and glass that have changed the face of Carpatho-Rusyn economic life. Communist rule also brought an end to private landholding, as the land was forcibly collectivized from the 1940s to the 1950s. Today, the middle and older generations work for a salary in the local collective farms; the younger generations travel daily or migrate to the towns and cities, where they work in factories or in the various service sectors. Formerly self-sufficient villages, which were able to grow or make all their food, drink, clothing, and farm tools, have joined the regimen of commercial relations; families now purchase these items from the cooperatives and the village store.