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SP Links September 7 – UBI vs public works in India, cash transfers in Romania, poverty in the US, youth aspirations in Ghana, conflicts in Africa…


Workers engaged in NREGS activities in India. Source: ESID

An old and yet contemporary question – what’s most effective, universal transfers or universal jobs? A WD article by Alik-Lagrange and Ravallion on India leans for the former. Comparing a hypothetical UBI to NREGS, a form of jobs guarantee, they argue that the very nature of NREGS self-targeting produces an inherent “disutility” to deter non-poor households from participating. When accounting for such effects, casual manual labor becomes more “poor-poor” in targeting performance, but this doesn’t counter the welfare loss from work requirements. As such, a UBI “… dominates NREGS for a given total outlay on workfare wages”.

Using the CEQ framework, Inchauste and Militaru estimate the distributional impacts of social protection in Romania. Their analysis reveals that poverty is higher after all taxes and cash transfers. A chief reason is that taxes are poverty-increasing, so much so that the poverty-reducing power of direct transfers is completely wiped out once indirect taxes are included in the analysis. In fact, households beginning in the second decile were net payers in 2016, as the share of taxes paid exceeded the cash benefits received for all but the poorest 10 percent of the population. Specifically, it appears that targeted cash transfers are not large enough to counter the burden of indirect taxes. This is especially important for rural households and for families with children. (Note: effects on inequality are more positive).

More on targeting, but in health: a very interesting paper by Guiteras et al examines latrine subsidies in Bangladesh. They found that (i) targeting benefits on the basis of landlessness or density increases the per-dollar impact, and (ii) that concentrating subsidies does generate greater take-up among those subsidized (more subsidies to fewer people), but widely dispersing subsidies produces larger spillover effects (fewer subsidies to more people), so the latter is preferable for a policymaker facing a subsidy budget constraint. As India is eying universal health care by 2022, a massive scheme was launched to provide up to 100 million poor households with approximately $7,100 in annual health insurance coverage for secondary and tertiary hospital care. The scheme will be piloted in 110 districts in 14 states. Examining health insurance in rural Kenya, Geng et al’s IFPRI summary (and full WD article) argues that insurance can improve health-seeking behaviors and protect consumption from health shocks, but may also crowd out informal insurance. Oh, Desmond and Travis have a great ASR article on survival strategies of the urban poor.

It is an astounding fact in the United States, 1 in 5 children live in poverty. A new MDRC review by Quint et al examines how children and parents think and feel about poverty and public benefits, as well as how families discuss their economic circumstances (children report awareness of both material deprivation and stigma). Hahn et al’s Urban Institute report shows that TANF’s effects on employment depend on state-specific design, which vary greatly across states: “…an applicant family earning $500 a month earns too much to be eligible for assistance in some states and would never be included in the measurement of employment outcomes. Other states would allow this family to begin receiving assistance but might differ in how much more the family could earn while continuing to receive assistance. States that offer TANF cash assistance to families with higher incomes almost by definition have more recipients with earnings and thus would have an advantage in measures of recipient employment”.

Which is the most unequal region in the world? The Middle-East, according to Alvaredo et al. Their work combines household surveys, national accounts, income tax data, and rich lists, showing that the share of total income accruing to the top 10% of income earners is about 64% in the Middle East, which compares with 37% in Western Europe, 47% in the US, 55% in Brazil, and 62% in South Africa.

Some jobs-related materials. An ODI report by Boateng and Lowe discusses the aspirations of urban youth in Ghana. In particular, they provide insights into the constraints of labor markets, what constitutes ‘meaningful’ work, and the trade-offs between present obligations and future goals (see also infographics and full set of ancillary case study materials). The latest issue of Poverty In Focus, the flagship periodical of IPC, is dedicated to the minimum wage with a rich set of 9 articles. The piece, for example, by Bhorat et al (p.41-45) clearly shows how incipient research is in low-income countries compared to more advanced economies.

Speaking of juicy collections, here are the 16 papers presented at the recent IZA annual migration conference at Harvard. A JDS piece by Hoogeveen et al analyzes the migration dynamics of refugees, returnees and, internally displaced people from the Northern Mali conflict. Among the findings, they show that individuals who were employed while displaced were less willing to go back to the North, while those who owned a gun were more likely to plan to go back. Bonus: ODI is hosting an event on Darfuri migration to Europe next week.

Moving to crisis and humanitarian issues, an ODI piece by Gordon and El Taraboulsi-McCarthy illuminates an important trade-off – that is, between security and reaching some of the most challenging contexts involves. Based on 4 case studies (Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Palestine), they discuss counter-terrorism legislation that prevents transfers of humanitarian funds into areas deemed to be high-risk. This had ‘far-reaching and unintended consequences’, including for the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach people in need. To mitigate these effects, they call for a “proportionate risk-based approach”, with 7 recommendations for bank, regulators, NGOs and donors. Bonus: CaLP announced its Cash Week 2018, a series of events to reflect of the future of humanitarian cash transfer programming.

The indirect effects of war in Africa are more severe than those from direct battlefields themselves. A Lancet article by Wagner et al (see also a blurb from Stanford’s FSE) matched data on 15,441 armed-conflict events with data on 1.99 million births and subsequent child survival across 35 African countries. They showed that 3.1 to 3.5 million infants born within 30 miles of armed conflict died from indirect consequences of battle zones. Muggah and Ntanga Ntita discuss how to reduce community violence, with an illustration from Bria, Central African Republic. BTW: there has been lots of debate around the role of Chinese investments in Africa, including possible ‘debt traps’. However, as Moore illustrates, China’s credit to Africa is less than 2% of the region’s $6 trillion debt stock.

Assorted mix: poverty debates are complex, but what can be agreed upon? Hickel and Kenny, two researchers sometimes holding different perspectives on the matter, lay out 12 facts; ILO’s Schmitt blogs about the future of social protection, with an emphasis on accelerating the achievement of universal social protection; Brooking’s Strubenhoff reflects on harnessing technology to reduce losses and emissions across food supply chains; if interested in the latest practices on social care and service provision, check out a recent conference for practitioners at the European Social Network, a platform of social service providers in Europe (h/t Christian Bodewig).

Finally, the evaluation debates over the past weeks (on the role of RCTs, etc.) continues with a thoughtful blog on descriptive papers by David McKenzie (see also comments to it).

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