Outside the enclaves, but part of the Fed, is the jungle, urban twilight zones that are half-Fed, half-Outlaw. Those who live in the jungle are entirely on their own. There are no municipal-supplied necessaries (water, power, etc.), no policing, and few outside opportunities for employment.
These conditions are alien to pre-plague Westerners, and lead to very odd adaptations. Like dirt vendors, who sell soil for rooftop gardeners and nightsoil disposal. Or honeywagons, who buy and compost human waste, to sell as fertilizer. (The safest of these use a pocket reactor to sterilize the soil. The least safest… don’t. Sometimes, this kills people.) Even in these circumstances, people adapted.
Without government, people were forced to fend for themselves, providing their own water, power, and other necessaries. The level of self-organization is strongly correlated with how prosperous and secure the neighborhood is.
There are two jungles in most of the Fed. One where people have self-organized effectively, one where they (for various reasons) have not. Life in the first is harsh, but not horrific. Life in the second is ugly and (to the eyes of a pre-plague American) unthinkable.
The pre-plague US standard of living was an aberration, both in historical terms and in comparison to the rest of the planet. Though the suffering from poverty in pre-plague America was very real, there were billions of people whose standard of living was far, far worse.
Life in the jungles has regressed to the poorest areas of the pre-plague Third World: the economy of post-War Europe, the politics of 1990’s Mogadishu, and the infrastructure of a Brazilian favela. Poverty is endemic and crushing. There are few jobs, few opportunities, and no social safety net.
[More next post.]