The Informal Economy in African Cities: Key to Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development


By Martha Alter Chen, Harvard University and WIEGO Network

Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
Global Forum on Development on 5 April 2017

Market porters in Accra, Ghana
Photo Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images Reportage

The informal economy consists of economic activities and units that are not registered with the state and workers who do not receive social protection through their work, both wage-employed and self-employed. The reality of the informal economy in Africa cannot be denied. In fact, informal employment accounts for two-thirds (66%) of non-agricultural employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. But, variation within the region is significant. Informal employment accounts for a smaller share of non-agricultural employment in southern Africa (33% in South Africa and 44% in Namibia) relative to countries in other sub-regions (82% in Mali and 76% in Tanzania) (Vanek et al 2014). Informal employment is a greater source of non-agricultural employment for women (74%) than for men (61%) in the region overall. In seven cities in West Africa with data, informal employment comprises between 76% (Niamey) and 83% (Lomé) of employment. In all seven cities, proportionally more women than men are in informal employment (Herrera et al 2012).
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Informal is normal in Latin America: taxes matter

By Juan Carlos Benítez, Economist at the Latin American and Caribbean Unit, and Angel Melguizo, Head of the Latin American and Caribbean Unit, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)


Informality equals vulnerability. In emerging economies and particularly in Latin America, informal is normal. On average, 55% of workers in the region did not contribute to pension or healthcare programmes in 2013. Although informality rates vary significantly across countries (Figure 1), a common feature of informality is its large prevalence amongst the poor and low-middle income workers (e.g. Jutting and De Laiglesia, 2009). On average, 85% and 73% of households in the lowest earning quintiles do not have any member contributing to social security schemes. Furthermore, informality is “one of the most striking differences, within the middle sectors, between the vulnerable population and the consolidated middle class” (Lustig and Melguizo, 2015).

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How middle class are middle-income households in Latin America?

By Ángel Melguizo (OECD Development Centre) and Nora Lustig (Tulane University)

On labour informality and its causes

 One of the most important achievements of the recent period of economic expansion in Latin America has been the substantial reduction of poverty and the surge of an emerging middle class. According to World Bank estimates (Ferreira et al, 2013), in 2009 the Latin American population with a daily income of between 4 and 50 dollars a day (in parity of purchasing power) represents 68% in the region today, compared with 29% who still are moderate poverty. These ‘middle sectors’ are composed of 38% belonging to a vulnerable population, which has between 4 and 10 dollars a day, and 30% middle class, between 10 and 50 dollars. Continue reading