Press Release: New Report on NYC Street Vendors and Canners Reveals Depth of COVID Exclusion on Informal Workforce

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New York City, New York: Waste Pickers

Research shows COVID-19 devastated workers’ earnings, wiped out their savings, and forced them into economic freefall, without relief from government.

Brooklyn, NY. Wednesday, January 27, 2021. — NYC canners and street vendors are coming together with state senators and researchers to call for urgent measures to aid their recovery, as new research shows the devastation COVID-19 has wrought on their livelihoods.

This groundbreaking research conducted by the Street Vendor Project, Sure We Can and WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) revealed how informally employed, low income workers endured severe restrictions in the spring and summer of 2020, when they were forced to stop work, and many excluded from life-saving governmental support in the form of cash or food.

Ryan Castalia, the Executive Director of canner organization Sure We Can, said the study found all street vendors and the majority of canners had to stop work completely during lockdowns.  “For these workers -  almost all of whom already live in poverty - earnings fell sharp and fast. Despite this obvious financial distress, their immigration status or lack of documentation often meant they were not eligible for government help. This research has shone a light on the alarming coping mechanisms they needed to use to survive the crisis, all of which are going to severely hinder them getting back on their feet” he said.

During the lockdown, the research showed street vendors reported zero earnings, and canners earned only 15% of their average pre-pandemic earnings. To survive, some 80% of street vendors reported they had to borrow money, draw down savings, or sell off their assets. About half of the canners had to do the same.

The research also showed recovery has been slow, difficult, and scattered. By June 2020, the average income of street vendors was still only 20% of their pre-pandemic earnings, even with almost 80% of workers back at work. Canners’ average daily earnings had recovered to pre-pandemic winter levels by July, but to the very low level of $17 a day. With local government considering economic recovery, the representatives of the estimated  20,000 street vendors and 10,000 canners across New York City are insisting it is time to see their contributions to the city acknowledged.

“With no relief in sight, our Street Vendors have been out every day, rain or shine during this pandemic, to provide not only for their own families but to take care of and feed their neighbors,” said New York State Senator Jessica Ramos. “Street Vendors are a true embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit of our city and reflect the profound generosity of community. It is time we ensure that our smallest business owners can not only work with dignity but have the tools to grow.”

New York State Senator Julia Salazar also expressed the seriousness of the situation: "Street vendors and canners represent the best of what New Yorkers have to offer: giving untiring effort to help their families thrive while contributing to the rich cultural fabric and beauty of our city. The exclusion of these workers from lifesaving relief during this pandemic has been cruel and is a terrible gap that must be filled with all the urgency we can muster."

“Street vendors are parents, caretakers, community members and leaders keeping our New York City streets safe. As small business owners and workers, they contribute significant tax dollars to state and local economies. Relief must be tailored to meet the needs of our smallest businesses, undocumented neighbors, older populations, and workers operating in informal cash economies who play a crucial role not just in our city’s culture and economy, but as leaders in the urgent response to the pandemic,” mentioned Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Deputy Director of Street Vendor Project, of the Urban Justice Center.
The canners and street vendors made these immediate demands:

General Measures: 

  • Extend access to  recovery programs and relief for street vendors and canners, including direct cash relief, small business loans, and opportunity grants. 
  • Create a fund for excluded workers through a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers (NYS8277B/A10414A).

For canners: 

  • Increase and expand NY bottle bill to raise the bottle deposit and redemption center handling fee, expand types of redeemable products.
  • Protect existing sites for canners from gentrification through capital funding.
  • Recognize canners as stakeholders in NYC extended producer responsibility schemes.

For street vendors: 

  • Pass Intro 1116: Lift the cap on NYC street vendor permits.
  • Pass NYS1175: Eliminate all caps on vending permits or licences in New York State.

For interviews or further information, please contact Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Street Vendor Project at or 413-441-6632; Ryan Castalia, Sure We Can at or 520-262-8006; Nicole Pryor, WIEGO at  or +64 27 239 2575 (NZT); or Graciela Mora, WIEGO at  or +506 8358 5592 (UTC/GMT -6 HOURS)

Editor’s notes

Sure We Can

Each year, Sure We Can diverts approximately 12 million bottles and cans from New York City’s waste stream, distributing over $700,000 annually to more than 900 canners, who are overwhelmingly low-income immigrants and people of color, some of whom struggle with homelessness and disability. Sure We Can also conducts urban gardening, education and outreach, composting, and single-use plastic upcycling.

Detailed fact sheet with results from the study for SWC available here

Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center

The Street Vendor Project (SVP) is a grassroots membership-based organization working to defend the rights and improve the working conditions of the approximately 20,000 people who sell food and merchandise on the streets of New York City. SVP, founded in 2001, strives to improve and expand vending as a viable, lawful employment option for immigrants and other entrepreneurs, and to increase public appreciation of how central vending is to our city’s culture and economy. Through direct legal representation, small business training, organizing support, leadership development, and strategic legislative advocacy, SVP builds power and community among vendors. The Street Vendor Project is part of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy to various marginalized groups of New Yorkers.

Detailed fact sheet with results from the study for SVP available here


COVID-19 Crisis and the Informal Economy is a WIEGO-led 12-city longitudinal study that assesses the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on specific groups of informal workers and their households. Using a survey questionnaire and in-depth interviews, Round 1 assessed the impact of the crisis at two points -- peak lockdowns (April 2020) and easing of lockdowns (May/June) -- in comparison to pre-COVID-19 (February 2020). Round 2 will assess continuing impacts versus signs of recovery in June 2021 compared to pre-COVID-19 and Round 1. This report presents the summary findings of Round 1 of the study.  In New York,  surveyed and interviewed street vendors and canners. The research provides a demographic profile of this workforce, documents their working conditions and the impacts of COVID-19.

Photo: NYC Waste Picker by Carlos Rivera.

Informal Economy Theme