June 27, 2013 | Contribution by
Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
International Coordinator, WIEGO Network
Informal sector construction workers in India. © Martha Chen.
In the developing world, where the informal workforce is at least half of the total workforce, a major debate centers on how best to help these workers. The big problem is that informal sector work is associated with low incomes, high risks, no formal contracts or benefits, and limited economic rights and a representative voice. We recently spoke with Martha Chen, a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the International Coordinator of the WIEGO Network — a global action-research-policy network that seeks to improve the status of the working poor in the informal economy, especially women.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, she argues that "informal is normal." This means that in developing countries not only are the majority of workers informally employed — with the highest levels in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa — but also that most jobs are created in the informal economy and most informal workers are trying to earn an honest living. She gives her thoughts on the challenge of accurately measuring the size of the informal sector and the types of workers in it to enable policy makers to better craft economic policies and labor laws that help lift the working poor out of poverty.