Informal Employment in Emerging and Transition Economies: Volume 34


Table of contents

(15 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Informality and informal employment are widespread and growing phenomena in all regions of the world, in particular in low and middle income economies. A large part of economic activity in these countries is not registered or under-declared and many workers enter employment relationships that do not provide any or only partial protection. Causes and consequences of informality in these regions have recently received growing attention, with a particular emphasis on the role of institutions. Several competing paradigms about informality and informal employment exist in the literature. The traditional dualistic view sees the informal segment as the inferior sector, the option of last resort. Due to barriers to entry, minimum wages, unions or other sources of segmentation, formal jobs are rationed. Workers in the informal sector are crowded out from the formal sector involuntarily, their wage being less than that in the formal sector. In contrast, the competitive view sees the formal and informal labor markets not segmented, but integrated. Voluntary choice regarding jobs and particular attributes of these jobs, such as flexible hours, working as a self-employed and being one's own boss as a micro-entrepreneur, and not valuing social security benefits, can be the reasons for remaining in or moving to the informal sector. A third paradigm points to segmentation within the informal sector. Embedding theoretical and empirical analysis of informality and informal employment in low and middle-income countries into the literature helps us to better characterize the labor markets in these countries.

We study the impact of tax and minimum wage reforms on the incidence of informality. To gauge the incidence of informality, we use measures of the extent of tax evasion, the extent of minimum wage noncompliance, and the size of the informal workforce. Our approach allows us to examine (i) the distinction between determinants of firm-level reported wage distribution and actual wage distribution, (ii) the complementarity of tax and minimum wage enforcement, (iii) the impact that a minimum wage reform has on tax and minimum wage compliance, and (iv) the impact that a tax policy reform has on tax and minimum wage compliance. We conclude with the design of optimal minimum wage and tax policies (even in the complete absence of minimum wage enforcement). We do so based on two objectives derived from popular concerns associated with an unchecked expansion of informality: tax revenue maximization, and poverty alleviation among workers.

The 2001 Russian tax reform reduced average tax rates for the personal income tax and the payroll or social tax. It also made the tax structure more regressive. Because individuals in the lower income bracket were for the most part not affected, it is possible to estimate the effects of the reform using a differences-in-differences approach. I study the effect of the reform on informal employment. Informality is defined using information on employment registration and self-employment. Applying parametric and semi-parametric techniques, I find evidence that the tax reform led to a significant reduction in the fraction of informal employees. Among the different forms of informality I study, the reform seems to have had the strongest effect on the prevalence of informal irregular activities. I also document stronger effects on individuals who benefited from the largest reductions in tax rates. The strong response to the tax reform is consistent with the emerging consensus in the literature on taxation that changes to the tax system lead to significant behavioral responses, although not necessarily in the form of a reduced labor supply.

This chapter studies the effect of increasing formality via tax reduction and simplification schemes on micro-firm performance. We develop a simple theoretical model that yields two intuitive results. First, low- and high-ability entrepreneurs are unlikely to be affected by a tax reduction and therefore, the reduction has an impact only on a segment of the micro-firm population. Second, the benefits to such reduction, as measured by profits and revenues, are increasing in the entrepreneur's ability. Then, we estimate the effect of formality on the entire conditional distribution (quantiles) of revenues using the 1996 Brazilian SIMPLES program and a rich survey of formal and informal micro-firms. The econometric approach compares eligible and non-eligible firms, born before and after SIMPLES in a local interval about the introduction of SIMPLES. We develop an estimator that combines both quantile regression and the regression discontinuity design. The econometric results corroborate the positive effect of formality on micro-firms’ performance and produce a clear characterization of who benefits from these programs.

We estimate a double-hurdle (DH) model of the Hungarian wage distribution assuming censoring at the minimum wage and wage under-reporting (i.e. compensation consisting of the minimum wage, subject to taxation and an unreported cash supplement). We estimate the probability of under-reporting for minimum wage earners, simulate their genuine earnings and classify them and their employers as ‘cheaters’ and ‘non-cheaters’. In the possession of the classification, we check how cheaters and non-cheaters reacted to the introduction of a minimum social security contribution base, equal to 200 per cent of the minimum wage, in 2007. The findings suggest that cheaters were more likely to raise the wages of their minimum wage earners to 200 per cent of the minimum wage, thereby reducing the risk of tax audit. Cheating firms also experienced faster average wage growth and slower output growth. The results suggest that the DH model is able to identify the loci of wage under-reporting with some precision.

The analysis presented in this chapter defines three different synthetic measurements of disincentives for formal work: two standard measurements, namely, the tax wedge and the marginal effective tax rate (METR); and a new, innovative measurement called formalization tax rate (FTR). The novelty of the latter is that it measures disincentives stemming not only from labor taxation but also from benefit withdrawal due to formalization. A descriptive analysis across a large number of OECD and Eastern European countries reveals that the disincentives for formal work – when measured through the FTR – are especially high for low-wage earners. This suggests that formal work might not pay in this segment of the labor market, in particular for the so-called mini-jobs and midi-jobs (low-paying part-time work).

Another novelty of the chapter is its empirical approach. Using EU-SILC 2008 data and OECD Tax and Benefit data for six Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia), we match disincentives for formal work to individual observations in a large data set. Applying a probit regression, the analysis finds a significant positive correlation between FTR or METR and the incidence of being informal. In other words, controlling for individual and job characteristics, the higher the FTR or the METR that individuals are facing is, the more likely they are to work informally. The tax wedge, on the other hand, yields a negative correlation. This indicates that the tax wedge is not sufficiently capturing disincentives for formal work. We also conclude that in cross-country analysis, it might be more useful to use the tax wedge that applies to low-wage earners as opposed to average wage earners.

How is migration related to informal activities? They may be complementary since new migrants may have difficulty finding employment in formal work, so many of them end up informally employed. Alternatively, migration and informality may be substitutes since migrants’ incomes in their new locations and income earned in the home informal economy (without migration) are an imperfect trade-off. Tajikistan possesses both a very large informal sector and extensive international emigration. Using the gap between household expenditure and income as an indicator of informal activity, we find negative significant correlations between informal activities and migration: the gap between expenditure and income falls in the presence of migration. Furthermore, Tajikistan's professional workers’ ability to engage in informal activities enables them to forgo migration, while low-skilled nonprofessionals without postsecondary education choose to migrate instead of working in the informal sector. Our empirical evidence suggests migration and informality substitute for one another.

Informality is a growing phenomenon in the developing and transition country labor market context. In particular, it is noticeable that working in an informal employment relationship is often not temporary. The degree of persistence of informality in the labor market might be due to different sources: structural state dependence due to past informality experiences and spurious state dependence due to time-invariant unobserved individual effects, which can alter the propensity of being in the informal sector independently from actual informality experiences. The purpose of our paper is to study the dynamics of informality using a genuine panel data set in the Ukrainian labor market. By estimating a dynamic panel data probit model with endogenous initial conditions, we find a highly significant degree of persistence due to previous informality experiences. This result implies that policies attempting to reduce current levels of informality may have a long-lasting effect on the labor market.

In the years 2003–2008, the Russian economy experienced a period of strong and sustained growth, which was accompanied by large worker turnover and rising informality. We investigate whether the burden of informality falls disproportionately on job separators (displaced workers and quitters) in the Russian labor market in the form of informal employment and undeclared wages in formal jobs. We also pursue the issues whether displaced workers experience more involuntary informal employment than workers who quit and whether informal employment persists. We find a strong positive link between separations and informal employment as well as shares of undeclared wages in formal jobs. Our results also show that displacement entraps some of the workers in involuntary informal employment. Those who quit, in turn, experience voluntary informality for the most part, but there seems a minority of quitting workers who end up in involuntary informal jobs. This scenario does not fall on all separators but predominantly on those with low human capital. Finally, informal employment is indeed persistent since separating from an informal job considerably raises the probability to be informal in the subsequent job.

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Research in Labor Economics
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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