Executive Summary: The Crisis is Far from Over for Informal Workers

Sarah Orleans Reed, Michael Rogan, Erofili Grapsa, Ghida Ismail, Marcela Valdivia

This summary provides a preliminary overview of how the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect the world’s more than 2 billion informal workers (61% of the global labour force) in four key sectors of work, by presenting key findings from Round 2 of the WIEGO-led COVID-19 Crisis and the Informal Economy study.

This is an Executive Summary of Policy Insights No. 8: The Crisis is Far from Over for Informal Workers – We Need an Inclusive Recovery for the Majority of the World’s Workforce.

Round 2 examines how informal workers were faring mid-2021, compared to their pre-COVID economic conditions. It finds that:

Most respondents have not recovered the ability to work. The average number of days worked per week was only 4 in mid-2021, still considerably lower than 5.5 in the pre-COVID period.

Earnings for informal worker respondents are still far below their pre-pandemic levels. By mid-2021, the typical worker was only earning 64% of their pre-COVID earnings. Four in every ten (40%) domestic workers, street vendors and waste pickers were still earning less than 75% of their pre-COVID earnings in mid-2021.

Home-based workers remain the hardest-hit sector, by far. In mid-2021, typical earnings of this group were only 2% of pre-pandemic levels, reflecting the depth of devastation in this predominantly female sector.

Food insecurity threatens urban workers. Nearly one-third of respondents in mid-2021 said an adult and/or child in their household had gone hungry over the last month. 57% reported challenges with dietary diversity and/or skipping meals.

Relief access is not improving and may be in decline. Access to government cash support stagnated and the percentage of respondents who received food support declined since the first three months of the pandemic. The percentages of workers who received forgiveness of rent, utilities and/or school tuition were in the single digits.

Governments might be doing more harm than good. 48% of respondents needed capital to resume their work, but only 9% of these used government relief grants for this purpose, and only 7% received government loans. Conversely, over one-quarter of street vendors and market traders and 16% of waste pickers reported harassment by law enforcement officials.

The crisis has forced workers into damaging survival strategies. In the 12 months preceding the 2021 survey, respondents were forced to borrow money (46%), draw down on already meagre savings (35%), or reduce household spending on non-food (26%) and food (23%) items.

Most informal workers are on the wrong side of global “vaccine apartheid”. By mid-year 2021, most respondents in countries in the global South were trailing their Northern counterparts in vaccination rates, though there was an encouraging increase in the vaccination rate in India by September/October.

Informal Economy Theme
Informal Economy Topic
Resource Type