Los Angeles’ Sidewalk Vendors Are Good for the Economy

Institute for Justice · October 6, 2015

Los Angeles—Out of the 25 largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles is the only one to completely ban sidewalk vending. A new study released today by the Institute for Justice provides further evidence that—particularly from an economic standpoint—the city’s ban is wrongheaded and counterproductive.

In Upwardly Mobile: Street Vending and the American Dream, IJ presents its finding from the first-ever national survey of licensed street vendors.  Specifically, IJ surveyed 763 licensed street vendors in America’s 50 largest cities—including Los Angeles—and found:

  • 96 percent of large-city vendors own their own businesses.
  • Street vending creates jobs; 39 percent of vendors employ full- or part-time workers.
  • Full-time vendors work five-and-a-half days per week on average and work long hours—averaging 11 to 12 hours per day.
  • Full-time and year-round vendors generate profits of about $35,000 per business and take home less than $18,000 in personal income.

“Our findings demonstrate that street vending is a diverse and vibrant industry that gives people the ability to support themselves, their families and their communities,” said Dr. Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research at IJ and author of the report. “Vendors are hard-working small-business owners and job creators—exactly the type of businesses Los Angeles should encourage.”

Unfortunately, although Los Angeles has a thriving food truck industry, it completely bans sidewalk vending. Vendors are threatened with high fines and jail time if they break the law. This forces vendors into the shadows, making it harder for them to expand their businesses, hire others and call on the police to protect them from shakedowns by gang members and other criminals.

But vendors and their allies are fighting back. The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign, a group made up of vendors and community organizations, is pushing to end Los Angeles’ misguided sidewalk-vending ban. Making vending legal will allow the city’s sidewalk-vendor entrepreneurs to operate and expand their businesses without fear.

A study by the Economic Roundtable found that L.A.’s 50,000 sidewalk vendors are part of a $504 million vending industry that “sustains 5,234 jobs created to meet the demand of vendors and their households’ purchasing activities.”

“Vendors provide a significant amount of economic benefits to the city’s economy—and imagine how much more they could provide if Los Angeles were to legalize sidewalk vending,” said Christina Walsh, the director of activism and coalitions at IJ. “By keeping it illegal, Los Angeles is putting thousands of entrepreneurs out of work and thousands more at risk. Vending has a long and proud tradition in Los Angeles, and the city should respect that by legalizing sidewalk vending.”

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