How structural inequality limits employment and self-employment in poor areas (or: Why South Africa’s informal sector is so small)
Given South Africa’s high levels of unemployment, the relatively small size of the micro-enterprise sector is a conundrum. This article argues that structural inequality is the reason for this – in particular, inequality in the structure of the economy, the legacies of spatial inequality and the continued inequalities in human development. Their combined effect is to limit the scope for poor people to escape poverty via self-employment. This explains the limited extent and small range of informal employment.
Government’s vision for the development of informal business is that, with the right support, these enterprises will achieve formal status, contribute to economic growth and create jobs. However, few informal businesses produce goods for which the formal economy has any a demand. Moreover, informal producers are structurally prevented from accessing the formal economy without the facilitation of intermediaries. This implies the need for an enabling institutional and legal environment which (a) supports intermediaries that assist informal producers to access formal markets and (b) provides incentives for formal-sector retailers to enter into contracts with intermediaries on more equitable terms. BEE is a possible way to provide such incentives.