We examine the effects of international trade in the presence of a set of domestic distortions giving rise to informality, a prevalent phenomenon in developing countries. In our quantitative model, the informal sector arises from burdensome taxes and regulations that are imperfectly enforced by the government. Consequently, smaller, less productive firms face fewer distortions than larger, more productive ones, potentially leading to substantial misallocation. We show that in settings with a large informal sector, the gains from trade are significantly amplified, as reductions in trade barriers imply a reallocation of resources from initially less distorted to more distorted firms. We confirm findings from earlier reduced-form studies that the informal sector mitigates the impact of negative labor demand shocks on unemployment. Nonetheless, the informal sector can exacerbate the adverse welfare effects of economic downturns, amplifying misallocation. Last, our research sheds light on the relationship between trade openness and cross-firm wage inequality.
We build an equilibrium model of a small open economy with labor market frictions and imperfectly enforced regulations. Heterogeneous ﬁrms sort into the formal or informal sector. We estimate the model using data from Brazil, and use counterfactual simulations to understand how trade affects economic outcomes in the presence of informality. We show that: (1) Trade openness unambiguously decreases informality in the tradable sector, but has ambiguous effects on aggregate informality. (2) The productivity gains from trade are understated when the informal sector is omitted. (3) Trade openness results in large welfare gains even when informality is repressed. (4) Repressing informality increases productivity, but at the expense of employment and welfare. (5) The effects of trade on wage inequality are reversed when the informal sector is incorporated in the analysis. (6) The informal sector works as an “unemployment,” but not a “welfare buffer” in the event of negative economic shocks.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) extended 669 billion dollars of forgivable loans in an unprecedented effort to support small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This paper provides evidence that information frictions and the “first-come, first-served” design of the PPP program skewed its resources towards larger ﬁrms and may have permanently reduced its effectiveness. Using new daily survey data on small businesses in the U.S., we show that the smallest businesses were less aware of the PPP and less likely to apply. If they did apply, the smallest businesses applied later, faced longer processing times, and were less likely to have their application approved. These frictions may have mattered, as businesses that received aid report fewer layoffs, higher employment, and improved expectations about the future.
This note provides new evidence on how small business owners have been impacted by COVID-19, and how these effects have evolved since the passage of the CARES Act. As part of a broader and ongoing project, we collected survey data from more than 8,000 small business owners in the U.S. from March 28th, one day after the CARES Act was passed, through April 20th. The data include information on ﬁrm size, layoffs, beliefs about the future prospects of their businesses, as well as awareness of existing government relief programs. We provide three main findings. First, by the time the CARES Act was passed, surveyed small business owners were already severely impacted by COVID-19-related disruptions: 60% had already laid off at least one worker. Second, business owners’ expectations about the future are negative and have deteriorated throughout our study period, with 37% of respondents in the first week reporting that they did not expect to recover within 2 years, growing to 46% by the last week. Third, the smallest businesses had the least awareness of government assistance programs, the slowest growth in awareness after the passage of the CARES Act, and never caught up with larger businesses. The last finding indicates that small businesses may have missed out on initial Paycheck Protection Program funds because of low baseline awareness and differential access to information relative to larger ﬁrms.