Let’s begin with the psychological effects of cash transfers! Molotsky and Handa show that in Malawi, an unconditional cash transfer providing 60/household/year (or 20% of pre-program consumption) had an impact on five measures of psychological well-being: happiness, subjective well-being, worrying about food, quality of life and stress. Moreover, these psychological states are predictive of the decision to save money or to wait for money in the future – e.g., a unit increase in the Quality of Life scale leads to a 23% increase in waiting for a future value of MWK13,000 ($16), while a standard deviation increase in an overall psychological index increases the likelihood of waiting for a future value $16 by 24%. Yet, “… the precise mechanism through which stress and negative affect influence intertemporal behaviours such as saving and time discounting in a field setting is still not clear”.
Oh, more on mechanisms… based on an evaluation by Haushofer et al in Kenya, Goldstein wonders about how economic and psychological outcomes interact for happiness generation, “… which comes first? Does it matter?” (I discussed the paper several weeks ago and included unconditional cash transfer of $485, a psychotherapy intervention named problem management plus (PM+), and cash and PM+).
Moving to a particular design choice, but one with significant implications: a review by McLean et al offers a useful set of considerations and illustrations on aligning the size of cash transfers in humanitarian and social protection spheres. A for example, Somalia’s Baxnaano cash transfer ‘base rate’ is around 30% of the humanitarian transfer value (which itself is only 70% of the minimum expenditure basket, MEB), rising to around 60% in the event of a shock; WFP’s pandemic response in Colombia (and Mozambique) included support for both migrants and host communities with cash value aligned to the government’s emergency cash transfer program; and in Kenya, the EU et al launched a program for households living in informal settlements of Nairobi with three monthly cash transfers that cover 50% of the MEB and involving a top-up to existing social protection transfers. Bonus: Nissen’s podcast has an hour-long conversation on cash – or “clash” – coordination with Tholstrup, Saez, Fraser, and Pelly. Double bonus: de Santos and Parker reflect on USAID’s work on cash and resilience.
More on design! Covid spurred temporary innovations to ease social protection access (many till December 2021). In the US, a brief by CBPP illustrates how SNAP was made more simple and flexible – e.g., states are allowed to shift from household eligibility home visits to interviews by phone; replace lost school meals via EBT; online purchases; adapt telephonic signature procedures; and no recertification required (only periodic reports). Those streamlined procedures don’t seem to have altered performance negatively (and actually increased uptake). But would they be absorbed more permanently? Jury’s still out…
Bonus on Covid-19: as supply side provisions are tightened in pandemic-stricken India, a thought-provoking piece by Basu argues that “… providing the poor with cash support (…) will mean that the price of the good rises until the rich have what they want. The poor will thus be back at square one” (h/t Mattias Lundberg).
Back to adaptations, UNPRDP et al have a handy update on Covid-related social protection and labor measures for people with disabilities. Some interesting examples include administrative innovations (box 3, p.12), Australia (one-off $572 for the recipients of disability allowance, followed by $382/month for 5 months), Saudi Arabia (10% to SMEs employing persons with disabilities), and Uzbekistan (10% increase in the base amount of the disability allowance) (h/t Charles Knox-Vydmanov).
Since I mentioned disability, IPC-IG issued a 12-article compilation on “what’s next” in social protection. Curated by Peres et al, it includes contributions by Cote’s piece on the disability gap, Stewart et al on universal child benefits, McCrum on gender-sensitive social protection, Juergens et al on older people’s income security, Peyron Bista et al on unemployment insurance, Stern-Plaza et al on health benefits, Dafuleya et al on migrant-responsive social protection, Haagh et al on UBI, Jaramillo Mejia on food security and nutrition, Escaroz and Espinoza-Delgado on microsimulations, Bierbaum et al on financing universal social protection, and Brito et al on connecting with humanitarian cash transfers.
News on information systems? A new paper by Kidd et al argues that “social registries have no role to play in modern social security systems”, and that countries should instead invest in Single Registries, with links to civil registries and vital statistics databases. In particular, they state that social registries face a series of deficiencies, among which are low coverage (“Indonesia deliberately restricted its social registry survey to 40% of the population”), infrequent surveys (“in Pakistan there was a gap of more than 10 years following the first PMT survey in 2009”), and high cost (between $51-$430 million pending on context and assumptions). Some reactions on Tweeter included Ravallion’s (“if the “social registry” (…) had everyone on it would it not be essentially the civil registry (…)? How could it exclude the poor?”) and Fischer’s (“[countries need] complete and functional vital stats and civil registry systems. Universalistic approaches can’t function without them. Whether “social” registries subvert this is a valid but different question”).
Switching to housing issues… in Los Angeles, Cohen estimates that housing assistance for single homeless adults reduces the likelihood of future return to the homeless system by 20 percentage points over an 18-month period (especially among individuals with physical disabilities and/or severe mental illness). In turn, 80% of costs are offset by these potential benefits in the first 18 months alone via less future spending on housing programs, savings in public spending (via improved health and reduced crime), increased employment and increase in social benefits receipt (see p.40). Note that the author suggests that “… providing direct housing assistance to the most vulnerable individuals is highly beneficial, while alternative types of assistance (for example, direct cash assistance) can be more beneficial for low-acuity individuals”.
Time for labor and skills (h/t Michael Weber)! Maniquet and Neumann have a fascinating paper that moves from an abstract property of US social preferences on poverty to possible reforms for existing income tax systems. Boone et al find that in the same country, there is no statistically significant impact of increasing UI generosity on aggregate employment. A paper by Zuzana Brixiova et al provides a estimates on Eswatini’s gender gaps in employment and earnings (gaps are higher in self-employment and urban locations), while Chakraborty and Lohawala show that in India a one standard deviation increase in sexual crimes per 1000 women reduces the probability that a woman is employed outside her home by 9.4%. And how much can employers in low and middle-income countries suppress wages below marginal productivity? In Colombia’s plants, Amodio and de Roux estimate that workers produce about 40% more than their wage level.
Finally, in case you missed it, the 9th Annual North America Basic Income Guarantee (NABIG) Congress is ongoing, see registration and full schedule here (plenty of great sessions planned, e.g., I will definitely attend the one tomorrow at 12pm, “Is Universality worth fighting for?”); interesting webinar yesterday on ECHO’s experience with linking humanitarian cash and social protection in Somalia and Jordan; and the second seminar in CGD’s “Building the Evidence on Forced Displacement” series is coming up on June 30!
Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on socialprotection.org each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.