Groundbreaking Report Highlights Economic Impact of New York City Vendors

Institute for Justice · October 6, 2015

New York City—Every day, thousands of vendors make their living on New York City’s streets and sidewalks, selling everything from hats and T-shirts to hot dogs and pretzels. These vendors are an important part of the city’s economy, but reliable data about vendors and their economic contributions have been hard to come by—until now.

A new study released today by the Institute for Justice offers an in-depth look at the everyday life of New York City’s licensed street vendors, the economic impact they have on their communities and the daily challenges they face.

In Upwardly Mobile: Street Vending and the American Dream, IJ studied the impact New York City’s vendors had on the city’s economy in 2012 and found:

  • Street vendors generated an estimated $71.2 million in local, state and federal taxes.
  • Vendors contributed nearly $293 million to the city’s economy.
  • Vendors contributed $192 million in wages.
  • Vendors supported 17,960 jobs in the city.

“Our findings show the major impact New York City vendors have on the local economy,” said Dr. Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research at IJ and author of the report. “New York City’s vendors are small-business owners and job creators who pay millions of dollars in taxes—exactly the type of hard-working entrepreneurs the city should encourage.”

But instead, New York City only issues 3,000 mobile food vending unit (MFV) permits and 853 merchandise licenses. These arbitrary and artificially low caps keep thousands of honest entrepreneurs from their desired calling. Others choose to operate illegally or to spend up to $25,000 every two years to rent a permit on the black market. Even the waiting list for getting a permit has been closed since 2007.

“The arbitrary caps on vending permits keep thousands of entrepreneurs out of work and discourage current licensed vendors from trying to expand their business,” explained Christina Walsh, the director of activism and coalitions at IJ. “New York City must lift the permit and license caps.”

According to New York’s Street Vendor Project, a coalition of 1,800 vendors who are working together to change the law, the city also constantly cracks down on vendors—issuing expensive tickets for minor violations, like vending too close to a crosswalk. “This is a groundbreaking report. We hope the city will use the report’s findings to craft policies to support vendors as small-business owners, rather than treating them like criminals,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center.

The newly released report is part of IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn a living.