Let’s start with a fascinating example of cash transfers for migrants! Mukherjee documents the Corona Assistance program for Bihari migrant workers stranded outside the state due to the lockdown. The program managed to transfer Rs.1000 ($15) to 2 million migrants (2.9M people applied) within 47 days from the scheme’s inception. The onboarding process was wholly digital and supported the Corona Sahayata App (with alternative options for enrolment as well), although the required proof of residence and bank accounts were difficult to fulfill for many urban informal sector migrants. (Interesting factoid: the program database was also used a few weeks later for special migrant trains “Shramik Specials” since regular railway ticketing processes were suspended).
And now let’s see what happens with cash transfers provided to another category of mobile populations, those forcibly displaced: Kimani et al show that among refugees receiving a $1,000 grant in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in Uganda, food consumption is not increasing relative to the control group.
Let’s stay in Africa: Bossuroy et al have a nice blog on assisting flood-affected households through adaptive social protection in Senegal. And speaking of rains… history can reveal the origins of state mistrust: why did incarceration rise in Nigeria during colonial times (1920-59)? Well, because of weather! Archibong and Obikili demonstrate empirically that rainfalls increased agriculture export prices, and this raised the need for temporary, cheap labor… plenty of which could be supplied by inmates. This had lasting effects on trust in the legal and institutional apparatus of the state to date.
More on violence: in Colombia, Blattman et al are conducting some interesting research on Medellin’s organized crime as a rule setter and service provider alternatively to the state. However, an initial output of such research found that during Covid, “… most welfare support to civilians came from state authorities rather than the gangs”.
LAC has more news! In Mexico, Lustig and Pabon find that the worst effects of the pandemic may not be on the poorest, but those (roughly) in the middle deciles. And in El Salvador, conditional cash transfers affect human capital up to 6 years after their commencement: Sanchez Chico et al show that when turning 5, children exposed to the program since birth are 12.3 percentage points (+30%) more likely to be enrolled in school (and 20% more likely to finish preschool).
Since I mentioned human capital, a sobering finding emerges from Angrist et al’s review of the education performance of 150 interventions (using the new Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling metric). They argue that “… prior reviews have shown that cash transfers can increase schooling. However, those results have not been compared to those of interventions that improve learning directly. We find that cash transfers are not a cost-effective tool to improve LAYS, since they yield gains in schooling in systems with low-quality education and do so without improving learning across the studies in our sample, all at relatively high cost.” Ouch!
Back to the pandemic: plenty of ideas on how to improve the US safety net during crises! An NBER paper Moffitt and Ziliak suggests sets out several options, see in particular p.29-34 for a rich tour of these! Among them, I like the way in which they suggest limiting discretion and tying decisions to objective triggers. For instance, for SNAP they argue that “… local employment conditions [could serve] as an automatic trigger for eligibility. Likewise, other automatic triggers that might improve program effectiveness are suspension of asset tests during downturns, expansion of gross-income eligibility limits, extension of recertification intervals, and expansion of benefit generosity” (p.31).
Looking at crisis as the proverbial opportunity? Cooke et al argue that Covid-19 has opened up a “… policy window to institute at least a temporary variant of a basic income, aimed at establishing an income floor for those most affected by the pandemic, [and this] constitutes a unique moment in the history of basic income”.
The skills and labor corner is back (in partnership with Michael Weber and Indhira Santos)! So what’s new in informality? Srivastava et al examine the trends in informal employment in India between 2004-2018 and find increases in informality, which counteracted the potentially positive effect of the economy-wide shift from agricultural to off-farm employment. Bonus: the new South Asia Economic Focus puts the spotlight on the informal sector, including its pervasiveness and low value added per worker, its heterogeneity, the lack of social protection, and the barriers to formalization”. Double bonus from WIEGO: the first is a blog post about the social protection responses to Covid-19 for informal workers (also available in Spanish and French)… plus a new episode of the Informal Economy Podcast about social protection needs for older workers featuring Aura Sevilla (h/t Cyrus Afshar).
Jobs tools and interventions! Based on data from 30 countries across 21 manufacturing sectors over 2001–2009, Roy argues that labor regulations significantly encourage imports in relatively labor-intensive industries; Liao discusses the quota system for employment of people with disabilities in China; by assessing job posting data from 9 million job postings in four US states (Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington), Brüningi and Mangeoli conclude that job positing data hold promise to complement existing labor market information systems to help match demand and supply; and for a specific category, Arendt finds that a “work-first” policy for refugees in Denmark speeded up the entry into regular jobs for males, but that they find work in precarious jobs with few hours. And on a subjective metric… Hansen and Stutzer show that parental unemployment is strongly negatively related to children’s life satisfaction across countries and years (and higher benefit replacement rate alleviates the negative effects of fathers’, but not mothers’, unemployment).
Skills! in Liberia, Beaman et al show that asports and life skills program spurred labor force participation by 0.12 standard deviations, especially among the most disadvantaged (but no improved psychosocial outcomes). And Eugenie Maïga et al have asystematic review of employment outcomes from youth skills training programs in agriculture in low- and middle-income countries: they conclude that “… although we find that skills training programmes report positive effects on our chosen outcomes, like previous systematic reviews we find the topic to chronically lack evaluation”.
News on social insurance? Cravo et al show that the 2015 changes in unemployment insurance eligibility rules in Brazil reduced layoffs and collusion between workers and employers (as it became harder to extract subsidies from the UI system).
And let’s end this edition with ‘news from the news’! A DEVEX piece by Igoe asks if the pandemic is a cash transfer tipping point; Ortiz and Jolly have a thought-provoking piece on blindly walking towards more austerity; Zimbabwe’s restrictions on mobile money transfers are a blow to financial inclusion, argues The Conversation; and The Guardian states that Covid-19 exposed the catastrophic impact of privatizing vital services.
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.