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The dynamics of informal employment


  • Jane E. Ihrig
  • Karine S. Moe


The informal sector, which produces legal goods but does not comply with government regulations, is a functioning part of all economies, with a proportion of the labor force ranging from 17 percent in OECD countries to 60 percent in developing countries. Using a dynamic model that includes an informal sector, this paper illustrates the natural dynamics of the sector, describes how tax policy affects its size, and quantifies the costs of having it. Simulations yield movements in informal employment and output consistent with empirical observations. We find that the U.S. informal sector accounts for about 5 percent of U.S.labor hours and produces about 3 percent of U.S. GDP in steady state. Strategies for reducing the size of the sector are discussed. We find, however, that the distortion from this sector in terms of lifetime loss in an economy's capital stock, is minimal--supporting those who want to keep the informal sector as a functioning part of society.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane E. Ihrig & Karine S. Moe, 2000. "The dynamics of informal employment," International Finance Discussion Papers 664, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgif:664

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sarte, Pierre-Daniel G., 2000. "Informality and rent-seeking bureaucracies in a model of long-run growth," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 173-197, August.
    2. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1990. "Why Doesn't Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 92-96, May.
    3. Charles I. Jones, 2002. "Sources of U.S. Economic Growth in a World of Ideas," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 220-239, March.
    4. Stephen L. Parente & Edward C. Prescott, 1991. "Technology adoption and growth," Staff Report 136, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    5. R. Hirschowitz, 1989. "The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 57(4), pages 266-272, December.
    6. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ananya Ghosh Dastidar, 2004. "Structural Change and Income Distribution in Developing Economies: Evidence from a Group of Asian and Latin American Countries," Working papers 121, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.
    2. Aronsson, Thomas & Backlund, Kenneth & Sahlén, Linda, 2010. "Technology transfers and the clean development mechanism in a North-South general equilibrium model," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 292-309, August.
    3. Sylvain Dessy & Stephane Pallage, 2001. "Why Don't Poor Countries Adopt Better Technologies?," Cahiers de recherche du Département des sciences économiques, UQAM 20-07, Université du Québec à Montréal, Département des sciences économiques.
    4. Dessy, Sylvain & Pallage, Stephane, 2003. "Taxes, inequality and the size of the informal sector," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 225-233, February.
    5. Garcia Penalosa, Cecilia & Turnovsky, Stephen J., 2005. "Second-best optimal taxation of capital and labor in a developing economy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 1045-1074, June.


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