Let’s start the 200th edition with one of most important papers of the year: Kondylis and Loeser not only quantify trade-offs in design, but also estimate what happens when layers of interventions are added on unconditional cash transfer (UCT) programs. Based on 38 impact estimates on household consumption from 17 randomized control trials of UCTs and multifaceted graduation programs “targeting the ultra-poor” (TUPs) in 14 countries, the paper presents three main findings: (i) UCTs consistently increase household consumption by 0.35 per unit of transfer, hence constituting a benchmark for comparative studies; (ii) increasing the generosity or size of UCT benefits doesn’t make impacts last longer, but it does increase unit costs of course; and (iii) widening the scope of UCTs by adding components also reduces cost-effectiveness (TUPs are 5%-43% less cost effective at increasing consumption than the average UCT); yet TUPs have more persistent effects over time (they increase consumption more than UCT after 3.4-7.7 years), although results are quite heterogeneous.
From consumption to allocation: what’s the latest on gender and intra-household decision making on cash transfers? A new paper by Cherchye et al conducted a lab experiment with 424 monogamous married couples in Nairobi. The trial involved spouses making decisions (first individually, and then in tandem) about allocating cash for themselves and nutritious meals for one of their children. Contrary to other research findings, the paper shows that when deciding alone, husbands allocate a higher budget share to meals for one of their children than their wives do: “… we did not find any evidence based on the experiment that women in urban informal settlements near Nairobi have stronger preferences in favor of spending money on meals for one of their children than their husbands” (p.34).
Let’s move to another African city, Kinshasa, where Bance et al identify an emerging set of lessons from implementing cash transfers in DRC’s capital. Their insightful piece reviews the STEP-KIN program’s identification of eligible populations, self-registration of beneficiaries, and digital payments – a process conducted at a relatively fast pace for a fragile urban setting: in three months, STEP-KIN supported over 100,000 individuals in 50 poor neighborhoods, now expanding to 250,000 recipients. Random post-distribution surveys show that 40% of beneficiaries are unemployed and the remaining earn less than $100/month on average.
More on pandemic responses, but in Asia: a report by IGSSS and YUVA examines Covid-19 relief measures for urban informal sector workers in ten Indian states. Cash transfers for construction workers were announced for specific worker groups in 4 states (see p.23). Domestic workers only got them in one case (Maharashtra, p.27), street vendors in 4 instances (p.30), while waste pickers got none. Other informal workers and particular groups got some assistance as well (p.37, 39-40). A set of recommendations conclude the report, including for example enumeration and registration through a national database, expand items provided through the PDS, and strengthen pre-existing boards for informal workers.
Speaking of jobs, there are two new sobering papers: it is often assumed that jobs help foster social cohesion, but is that really the case in practice? A thought-provoking review by Bruck et al tests the jobs-peace nexus empirically and argues that “… [e]xisting evidence is based on a handful of case studies of programs, which themselves are – mostly – inconclusive and provide, at best, only weak evidence”.
When it comes to the effects of trainings on employment, McKenzie is forthright: “don’t count on business training to generate a lot of jobs”. His co-authored 2nd version of the extensive VoxDev lit review on the matter is accompanied by a blog where he concludes that “… the typical business training that has been evaluated has not created any additional employment”.
Any news on food security and nutrition? In Bangladesh, an experiment by Billah et al involving 1,500 pregnant mothers shows that food transfers (lipid based), compounded by counseling, help diversify diets of children aged 6-23 months – specifically, mean dietary diversity score is increased by 0.09 and odds of minimum dietary diversity by 18%. Of interest is also a digital tablet that community health workers use to deliver nutritional advice. What about diet quality “where families share their meals”? A new paper by Schneider et al sheds light on the matter with an application to Malawi. Bonus: Schneider also has a coauthored Lancet comment calling attention on the (health) stakes in the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit.
Data! Gourlay et al review “good practices and open questions” on high-frequency phone surveys (HFPS) undertaken during the pandemic (between April 2020 and June 2021, the World Bank’s LSMS supported 61 monthly phone survey rounds across 7 countries, amounting to over 119,000 completed interviews). A quick fact: although the amount of data collected is different, the overall cost of an HFPS interview is about $10 ($7.8-$13.1) or about 30 times lower than the nearly $300 for household face-to-face interviews ($199.4-$406).
On broader development issues: China’s famous “Kuznets curve” for inequality has little to do with the Kuznets model of growth through structural transformation: Chen and Ravallion argue instead that “… [m]ore plausible explanations for the inequality turning points relate to determinants of the gap between urban and rural mean incomes, including multiple agrarian policy reform”.
Assorted mix: remember the massive social protection handbook edited by Schüring and Loewe shared last week? The volume’s launch recordings are now available. A NYT piece by Weisman comments on the upcoming US legislation on cradle-to-grave social protection. And the Georgia Center for Opportunity released a cool interactive tool, “Benefits Cliffs”, with visuals on benefit structures (phase in and out) for different families in eight states.