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A New Deal for Informal Workers

A program of relief, recovery, and reform for informal workers is vital in order to challenge the racial and economic injustices exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. This program should start with two fundamental commitments that do not require significant financial resources, but rather a change in mindset.

CAMBRIDGE – In the early 1930s, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in an attempt to combat the effects of the Great Depression. The program had three main pillars: relief (for the unemployed), recovery (of the economy and job creation), and reform (through new regulations and social-welfare programs).

The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for another New Deal – one that recognizes, protects, and supports informal workers, who comprise 61% of the global workforce but have no health insurance, paid sick leave, or pensions. Most of these workers produce essential goods such as food, milk, clothing, shoes, and housing, or provide crucial services like health care, childcare, eldercare, cleaning, delivery, transport, waste management, and food distribution.

The indispensable nature of these jobs, which the pandemic has highlighted, calls for a strategy with the same three pillars that FDR championed – relief, recovery, and reform – but all aimed at helping informal workers. Yet, many aspects of governments’ current COVID-19 recovery measures threaten informal workers.