Formal-informal economy linkages and unemployment in South Africa

OUTPUT TYPE: Research report- client
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2009
TITLE AUTHOR(S): R.Davies, J.Thurlow
KEYWORDS: EMPLOYMENT CREATION, FORMAL ECONOMY, INFORMAL ECONOMY, UNEMPLOYMENT
DEPARTMENT: Economic Perfomance and Development (EPD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 5811

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Abstract

South Africa?s high involuntary unemployment and small informal sector are attributed to an underperforming formal sector and barriers-to-entry in the informal sector. This paper examines the economy-wide linkages between formal and informal economies while accounting for different types of informal activities. A multi-region empirically calibrated general equilibrium model is developed capturing both product and labour markets. Three policy options are considered. Firstly, results indicate that trade liberalisation reduces national employment. However, it increases formal employment, hurts informal producers and favours informal traders, who benefit from lower import prices. Past liberalisation may, therefore, partly explain South Africa?s small informal sector and its concentration amongst traders rather than producers. Secondly, wage subsidies on low-skilled formal workers increase national employment, but hurt informal producers by heightening competition in domestic product markets. This suggests that it is insufficient to examine unemployment policies by focusing only on labour markets. Thirdly, unconditional cash transfers stimulate demand for informally produced products, thereby raising informal employment without undermining formal producers. The transfer does, however, place a large fiscal burden on the state and is less effective in reducing national unemployment than a wage subsidy. Overall, these findings underline the importance of distinguishing between the formal and informal sector implications of socio-economic policies.