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There is no recovery without informal workers

December 16, 2021
An IDRC-supported study uncovers how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting informal workers and what measures are needed to ensure that no one is left behind.
A Sri Lankan woman sells produce on the side of the road.
Alejandra Vargas García/IDRC

Informal workers number more than two billion globally and constitute 90% of workers in developing countries, according to the International Labour Organization. They have been hit hard by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.  

The initial findings of a study by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing revealed how the first wave of lockdowns devastated informal workers’ earnings. The research includes people working as street vendors, domestic workers, waste pickers and home-based workers across 11 cities in five regions – from New York City in the United States to Accra in Ghana.   

Nearly two years into the pandemic, data in a second round of this global study reveals a very slow recovery. Summarized in The Crisis is Far from Over for Informal Workers, the findings paint a bleak outlook. Across the different occupation types, most informal workers are working fewer days. Earnings are far below their pre-pandemic level. Home-based workers, the majority of whom are women, are the hardest hit; they are earning on average only 2% of pre-pandemic levels. The crisis has forced many informal workers to take up exploitative loans and has pushed many households into poverty.  

The study stresses that government response has been inadequate and may be doing more harm than good. It lays out recommendations for how governments can capitalize on the opportunity to build back better by investing in a bottom-up recovery that includes the majority of the world’s workers. 

This study is supported through one of IDRC’s rapid-response initiatives to the COVID-19 pandemic, filling the urgent need for policy innovations as countries grapple with the social and economic fallout of a global crisis and with eroding social cohesion. The goal is to inform equitable responses to the crisis, particularly those that target and engage the most vulnerable informal workers. 

Read our recent blog related to this research on Equal Times.