Informal Workers: Vital to Urban Economies
Most urban workers in developing countries are informally employed. They help keep their households out of extreme poverty, but have little access to legal and social protections. They play vital roles in urban economies, environments, and cultures:
- Home-based workers produce goods sold in local and global markets. They purchase inputs from and sell to formal businesses. They pay consumer taxes. Their products help preserve local culture and beautify cities during special events.
- Street vendors offer goods at convenient locations and affordable prices for customers. People in cities rely on street vendors to sell them goods in appropriate quantities as they pass by. Many street vendors help keep the streets safe and clean. Street vendors bring vibrancy and social interaction to public spaces.
- Waste pickers play a critical role in reducing waste taken to landfills by the tons, recycling (which reduces emissions 25 times more than incineration does), and keeping cities clean – all at a reduced cost to cities. They sell what they collect to formal businesses.
Greater Contributions are Possible
Policy makers, urban practitioners and workers in informal employment can join forces to build stronger economies and enhance vibrant city spaces. Cases from the Inclusive Cities project — from Accra to Bogotá to Kathmandu and elsewhere — show how.
Data from the Inclusive Cities project’s Informal Economy Monitoring Study point to some key areas for enhancing both livelihoods and cities:
- provide low-income housing better suited to income generation
- ensure zoning that allows mixed residential and business use
- establish a fair and transparent regulatory environment that supports own-account enterprises
- ensure planning includes and integrates those working in informal employment arrangements
- recognize that urban infrastructure plays a key role in supporting livelihoods at the base of the economic pyramid
- ensure informal workers have a voice in urban planning and policymaking.
Organizing, Research, Policy
WIEGO combines support for workers’ organizations with research and policy work to improve the status of the working poor, especially women, in informal employment. Our materials for workers, organizers and activists include resource books and workers’ education materials. Our research contributes to a broader understanding of the urban informal economy. Our policy brief series showcases innovative practices and ideas for livelihood-centered urban planning and practice. Our case studies offer concrete examples of city officials working with informal workers to achieve positive results. Finally, the boxes below highlight our most recent policy and planning resources, activities and publications.