Let’s kick off with an exciting new flagship: Bussolo et al penned a volume on the social contract in Europe and Central Asia. Chapters 3 and 5, for instance, offer an intriguing discussion about the effects on redistribution, coverage and financing of social protection systems (see for example the French vs Danish model on p.130, or Ireland vs Baltic States on p.132). The analysis is a reminder of the programmatic variety (e.g., see figure on means-tested benefits) and magnitude of spending in social protection in the region: this is funded by high taxes and compulsory social contributions, which amount to an average of 38.9 percent of GDP in the EU in 2015 (12 percentage points more than in the US). Overall, the report calls for moving toward equal protection of all workers, no matter their type of employment, while promoting labor markets’ flexibility; seeking universality in the provision of social assistance, social insurance, and basic quality services; and supporting progressivity in a broad tax base that complements labor income taxation with the taxation of capital. Bonus: a JID article by Haile and Nino-Zarazua examines the (positive) effects of social protection spending on the inequality-adjusted human development index.
Is there something about number “9”? After the recent Uganda paper by Blattman et al, an EDCC article by Misha examines the effects of a BRAC-type graduation program (TUP) in Bangladesh over 2002-11. Also in this case, effects are fading after 9 years, but here net impacts are clearly positive. Differently from Uganda, the TUP targets ultra-poor women (not relatively better-off youth), who get a grant package (mostly in-kind) over 18 months (cost=$292/HH). The net effect of beneficiaries being 5 percentage points more likely to engage in entrepreneurship is notable if we consider that (i) a drought hit the treated areas, and (ii) beneficiaries’ initial conditions. Indeed, many ex-maids and beggars were among those that became entrepreneurs. Intrahousehold help by adult children mattered in explaining success, with women showing better results than men.
Since I mentioned children and work, a presentation by Natali sheds light on the effects of cash transfers on intra-household time allocation in Northern Uganda. The evaluation showed that the program had no effects on children’s schooling and even increased child labor (kids helping families in agricultural activities ). This generated an interesting Twitter thread on what should be viewed as a “child-sensitive” outcome.
Moving from Central to East Africa, tailoring social assistance to mobile and pastoralist populations is hard: a new IFPRI report by Lind et al finds limited progress in targeting by the PSNP in Ethiopia’s Afar and Somali regions since 2010. Why such performance? They set out five reasons: limited resources and under-coverage; the involvement of traditional leaders in targeting; insufficient training; attitudes of program implementers; and community norms regarding fairness (e.g., “… a major element of local notions of ‘fairness’ in these areas are that everyone should benefit regardless of wealth, and that targeting a minority of community members can engender tensions”, p.17).
Let’s look at combinations of cash and other measures. Arriagada et al have a sleek note (with a technical paper forthcoming) reviewing the evidence on combining cash transfers and parenting interventions to improve child cognitive performance. Figures 3 and 4 nicely unpack those parenting activities (i.e., services to enhance parenting knowledge, interactions, attitudes, behaviors, etc.), and illustrate a theory of change for cash transfers. Table 2 then breaks down the findings from programs in Colombia (which adapted the Jamaican “Reach Up” home visiting scheme as part of the CTT Familias en Acción CCT), Niger (where the UNICEF “essential family practices” were combined to cash transfers in the poorest regions), Peru (with the initiative Cuna Más implemented in conjunction with the Juntos cash program), and Mexico (where Prospera was paired with Educación Inicial). Results were positive in the short run, but there is limited evidence for larger-scale and longer-term initiatives.
From parenting to nutrition. In a Brookings FD blog and 4 technical notes, Schwarz et al examine India’s take-home ration program. This aims to provide children 6 to 36 months old, as well as pregnant and lactating women, with a fortified supplementary food product for home use (at a total yearly cost of $2 billion). They found various challenges around product composition and formulation, its production and distribution mechanisms, as well as monitoring and accountability.
But shouldn’t beneficiaries in India receive cash instead? As part of the perennial cash vs in-kind debate, a short oped by Muralidharan et al sought to find a middle ground by shifting decision making down the chain – that is, let people choose. The principle is sensible, and one bound to spark debate around the thorny political economy of reform, indexation to inflation, etc. A key point would be to better understand if the model would lessen or amplify implementation complexities related to digital transfers – the simultaneous management of multiple transfers would essentially need a system in constant flux, or one that is able to accommodate the timely delivery of any transfer modality, anywhere, and at any time.
A little-known spillover effect of social protection and labor programs: they can reduce (re)incarceration of recently-released prisoners by reducing the likelihood of resorting to illegal activities, hence affecting the probability to return to prison. A new NBER paper by Agan and Makowsky shows that more generous Earned Income Tax Credit benefits (i.e., states topping-up the federal level) decreases the probability women returning to prison in 3 years by about 3 percentage points. If the average minimum wage increased by $0.50, the probability that men and women return to prison within 1 year would drop by 2.8%.
More on the US: the labor force participation rate declined from 67.3% in early 2000 to 62.4% in late 2015. Is this because more workers are leaving, or because fewer workers are entering the labor market? A new paper by Seshadri decomposes such decline and shows that about half of it can be attributed to demographic shifts (e.g., young workers have been both less likely to enter the labor force and more likely to leave). Also, it finds that the association (covariation) between wages and continued employment has been growing, suggesting increasing incentives to remain employed, but decreasing incentives to return to employment for those out of a job (h/t Ruslan Yemtsov).
Assorted mix: plenty of interesting presentations from the Academy of Social Security, with several sessions recordings that can be watched here. A piece by Hicks et al argues that we got the sequence wrong – cities don’t make workers (much) more productive, but productive workers move to cities. Finally, a summary is now available of BIEN’s recent annual Universal Basic Income conference in Helsinki, part 1 and part 2.
Too much reading and just want a podcast? Check out the IRC-Voxmedia podcast collection on fragility and displacement (h/t Jeff Mosenkis). There are many good ones, but if you ask my opinion, don’t miss Stefan Dercon’s sharp and thoughtful interview, especially as he describe where and where not to use disaster risk insurance, and how to engage in contexts like Sudan and Nigeria.