Covid-19 Has All but Killed a Lifeline in Poor Economies—Hustling for Work

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Covid-19 Has All but Killed a Lifeline in Poor Economies—Hustling for Work

When times get tough in the developing world, many workers eke out a living by doing odd jobs, driving taxis or selling snacks on the street. In the post-Covid economy, even those options aren’t working out for many people.

In the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, Khemawan Achewapanish said she is earning less than $3.50 a day selling noodles and desserts at a temple food stall—about one-tenth of what she used to earn. Foot traffic remains light, and “nobody wants to spend,” she said.

It was different during the 2008-09 financial crisis, she said. People lost jobs then, but traffic stayed brisk, and she was able to earn additional money renting out audio equipment for weddings and temple fairs, which isn’t possible today.

“I don’t think it’s going to be better anytime soon,” she said. “The world has changed.”

“Informal” underground-economy jobs such as Ms. Khemawan’s are fixtures of the developing world, employing more than 90% of the labor force in some countries. The often ad-hoc jobs, without formal pay slips and set hours, take on even greater importance during downturns, filling in gaps in countries with limited social safety nets.

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