In the aggregate, earnings from jobs in the informal sector play a small role in reducing national poverty rates, especially because there are relatively few informal-sector jobs. However, if we compare on a per-job basis, the poverty reduction associated with one informal-sector job is generally between 50 to 100% of the poverty reduction associated with one formal-sector job. Growth in the number of jobs in the informal sector would be a sensible component of any plan to reduce poverty.
Informal enterprises are perceived to lack the necessary business and economic fundamentals to stimulate their local economies. However, informal enterprises are not homogenous. In a study of non-retail informal enterprises, we distinguish between Traditional Informal Enterprises (TIEs) and Modernising Informal Enterprises (MIEs) and assess whether Ivory Park and Kaalfontein townships have MIEs to catalyse the local economies. We find that 40% of the non-retail enterprises have a modernising orientation, but that the majority are predominantly traditional.
The REDI3x3 research project has completed most of its research at a time when unemployment, poverty and inequality is intense. With growth at just 0.5%, government needs to become more innovative in fixing the social policies that hamper progress. It should draw on all the research evidence to find ways to transform the structure of the economy without inhibiting growth. Addressing education, low labour intensity, the informal sector and the spatial legacies of apartheid can make a real difference.