Don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a lot more car window washers on intersections lately. My local one is back after not seeing him for years, because they mostly disappeared during the nine years of almost full employment under a Labour-led government.
But they’re back. They’re part of New Zealand’s informal economy, where in hard times, people are forced to make a living in whatever way they can because they cannot find jobs or are unable to start businesses in the formal economy. These are part of the working poor who are working very hard but who are not recognised, recorded, protected or regulated by the government.
There’s no question that New Zealand does have an informal (or underground) economy. The question is how big is it and is it growing?
Unfortunately, we have no idea about the size of the underground economy in New Zealand because people working in the informal economy are not registered as businesses or employees and they do not pay taxes.
But think about the workers that you see around the place. There’s the flower and strawberry sellers on the side of the road. There’s those who do jobs “under the table” to top up their meagre income or unemployment benefit. There’s those who work from home and even in garages as sub-sub-sub contractors making things, sewing or putting things together, there’s those who mow the lawns, do a bit of catering on the side and there’s the street vendors selling jewellery, fake watches and sunglasses in the streets.
Increasing poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is one of the underlying reasons for the growth of the informal economy – even in first world countries.
It is is poverty that forces people to take up unattractive jobs in the informal economy and the low incomes that such jobs yield create a vicious cycle of poverty.
It’s not good for our economy or society either. No taxes paid, no ACC levies funded, no health and safety, no minimum wage, no other protections.
It’s almost like the car washers are a barometer of the state of our ecconomy and the well-being of New Zealanders. If it is, then we’re in big trouble.
Sadly, with a government with no plan for jobs, I fear I’m going to see a lot more of my local car window washer.