Gathering Life Histories

The Cascading Lives Project is about a diverse group of people and how they manage their ups and downs and face times of economic crisis. In the summer of 2020, we began gathering life histories with a wide range of workers in hospitality—an industry that suffered great losses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked them to talk about the entire course of their lives, from childhood to the present, and tell us about the important people, places, and groups that made a difference along the way.

Read the stories

Our Methodology

The Cascading Lives Project is grounded in these stories of real people's lives. Their jobs range from bartending and event-planning to industrial cleaning and circus performance. The individuals who participated in the project ranged in age from 29 to 62, included people who were married, single, divorced, or living with long-term partners, those who had no children to those who had several grandchildren, and people who had lived in the same city their entire lives to others who immigrated to the United States or had moved extensively throughout their lives. Some of their lives were greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; for others, less so. For many of the participants, COVID-19 was only one of many significant turning point moments in their life courses.

Analyzing Cascading as Loss, Resistance and Resilience

The narratives presented here draw on the rich complexity of the life histories we gathered. We offer portraits of the people we spoke to—their stories of loss, resilience and resistance. In these short biographies, we aim to reveal their experiences of hardship in the face of an economic downturn or a health crisis, and understand the world from their point of view. In this Cascading Lives Stories section, we share the stories of 20 of the project participants. Some include portraits of these individuals photographed at their homes and in their workplaces and neighborhoods. We also share audio clips from the interviews with eight participants.

Our Participants

These individuals have generously shared their experiences and emotions from their life stories. We invite you to engage with these rich and multilayered narratives to learn more about experiences of cascading loss, resilience, and resistance in the United States. We hope to create an opportunity for critical reflection on economic mobility and poverty in the United States.