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May 18, 2018 (links edition #57)

Plenty of resources on fragility this week… for instance, how many people were displaced in 2017? About 30 million according to a new report by the IDMC and NRC – a level very high in absolute term, but less than half that of 2016. A WIDER working paper by Carbonnier traces the origins of ‘humanitarian economics’ as a new field of inquiry. Campbell and Knox Clarke produced an interesting ALNAP literature review of humanitarian decision making processes, including in terms of response options, targeting, data collection, coordination, scale of programs, and staffing – and how pressure and stress levels affect these decisions. An interesting synopsis of shock-responsive cash transfers in Madagascar. In a HPG a briefing paper, Wake and Yu make the case to a switch in developmental approach in the Rohingya crisis. An interesting event next week (May 21), with ODI webstreaming a panel discussion on fragile states.

Looking at Africa from space: Dinkelman and Wittenberg summarize their findings on using satellite data to track service delivery in South Africa. They argue that such data can be used as one type of third-party measurement to track the ramping up of electricity connections in developing countries, and for diagnosing when service delivery, conditional on connections, is worsening. For instance, they showed that each additional 50 households connected can be measured as an observable increase in night-time luminosity of 0.35 units. Another working paper by Ali et al shows how high-resolution satellite imagery in Rwanda makes it possible to assess the completeness of existing tax maps by estimating built-up areas based on building heights and footprints. Bonus: in an ESID blog by Lavers examines the territorial reach of the Ethiopian state through the lens of social protection.

Let’s turn to some jobs-related materials. Following Ravallion’s CGD review of employment vs income guarantees shared last week (see here), Chowns blogs about the political considerations around such choice. Similarly, Lowrey has a news article on the growing momentum behind proposals for a jobs guarantee program in the US. A Georgetown insightful review of what are we learning form 40 years of subsidized employment programs (h/t Fortunato Lambiase). A piece on the growing use of 1-day gigs by restaurants and retail. Examining historical data from the UK, Caprettini and Voth conclude that if technology-induced job losses are rapid, and affect a large part of the workforce, the risk of social unrest can become serious. Bonus: an IDS paper by Greeley examines ‘who are the ultra-poor’ in rural Haiti – in that context, he recommends a graduation model incorporated within the national social protection framework.

Since I mentioned the US, a new NBER paper by Hoynes and Schanzenbach assesses what groups of children are served by US safety net programs (Medicaid, EITC, CTC, SNAP, and TANF). On one hand, they find that virtually all gains in spending on the social safety net for children since 1990 have gone to families with earnings and income above the poverty line. They ascribe this to 1996 welfare reform and the expansion of in work tax credits. On the other hand, they find that access to safety net programs during childhood leads to benefits for children and society over the long run. Wheaton et al describe how we used the new Urban Institute microsimulation model, ATTIS, to examine the possible effects of expanded work requirements in SNAP food vouchers. The changes would affect how families’ incomes are counted, how program eligibility is determined, and the work requirements placed on recipients.  Many of the proposed changes are restrictions; others, such as an increase in the maximum allowable level of assets, could make some families newly eligible. More on food: IFPRI launched its Global Food Policy Report on how trade and nutrition interact.

Let me round up with some measurement papers. What is the middle class? Reeves et al have a Brookings piece laying out the different definitions as proposed by Cashell, Estache and Leipziger, Kharas, Easterly, Pew, Williams and Boushey, Krueger, Rose, Thurow, and IMF. The cool interactive graphs show that such definitions encompass incomes between $13/year and $230/year. Canelas and Gisselquist review the challenges around measuring horizontal inequality (between groups), including key methodological, conceptual, and political issues around survey and census data. What can we learn from experiential measures of food security? Using panel data from Malawi, a working paper by Joliffe et al shows that rapidly rising food prices are a key source of anxiety, even when dietary diversity and other indicators are stable.


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