Let’s start with a bombshell paper: Heinrich and Knowles present experimental evidence from Kenya’s Cash Transfer Programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children on the Hamletian dilemma of whether or not to condition. Specifically, they test the comparative performance of “hard” conditions (receiving a penalty fine for noncompliance in health, nutrition and education) versus just informing people (“labeling”) on how to spend transfers. What did they find? The two modalities yield similar effects, with harder conditions also generating some negative unintended consequences (fines decreased non-food consumption). Bonus: information alone really can change behaviors, argues Evans.
But what about the effects of cash transfers over time? Dietrich et al simulate the returns of cash transfers on human capital in Uganda: after 10 years, the scaled-up Senior Citizen Grant and the Vulnerable Family Grant would decrease malnutrition (child underweight) by 1.5 percentage points and increase education by 0.01 years of schooling.
Switching from cash to in-kind assistance: an RCT by Gross et al investigates the effects of the “food security granaries” program in Burkina Faso. They show that where markets are weak, food assistance improves nutrition as measured by body mass indexes. They also find that timing of distribution matters for nutrition, while the predictable nature of transfers – its ‘guaranteed’ nature –helps avoid advance purchases and costs of storage.
I started this edition with a paper on conditionalities, but let me turn to another form of requirements, this time in the US: a new paper by Hill et al documents people’s experience with Medicare’s work requirements in New Hampshire. The qualitative evidence is heartbreaking – among the passages that struck me the most, “I feel like I was not good enough”; “1 extra day of work made my income too high, 1 less day made me ineligible”; “had 6 brain aneurysms…but [the doctor] said, if you can walk, you can work”.
Resources on various forms of inequality and poverty! Beegle synthesizes the literature on legislating gender equality in the workplace (through pay transparency); UNDESA’s social report on inequality is out! Lots of stats here, with headline message being of every 10 people, 7 live in a country with rising income inequalities (h/t Andrea Rossi); and Apgar reflects on the Poverty Stoplight, a new participatory methodology (h/e Keetie Roelen).
Moving to resilience, an independent evaluation of Ethiopia’s 2015-18 interagency humanitarian drought response is many ways less than flattering. On the positive side, it argued that “… disconnects between humanitarian food assistance and the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) started to be addressed”. It also highlights a complementarity that shouldn’t be interpreted as mistargeting: “… where both PSNP and humanitarian food assistance were provided, PSNP was more likely to target the poorer income brackets, whereas humanitarian food assistance was complementary to this and thus often focused on the richer population groups”.
More on the Horn: in an explosive paper on power dynamics and political economy of humanitarian assistance in Somalia, Jaspars et al discuss how, among others, the shift from food aid to cash transfers has led to the involvement of many new and smaller traders, but they remain dependent on a limited number of large businesses for supply (h/t Paul Harvey). BTW: Harvey et al invite you to submit your views on linking social protection and cash-based humanitarian assistance through a survey monkey (this would help them recommend revisions and additions to CaLP training materials).
What’s new on migration? The proverbial argument that investing in local conditions can affect mobility decisions now finds further empirical validation: Smith and Floro explore the question in low and middle-income countries and find that “… the likelihood of international migration intentions increases monotonically with the severity of food insecurity”. And in Asia, the China Labor Bulletin estimated 288 million rural migrant workers in 2018, making up more than one third of the entire working population. Their children have limited access to education and healthcare and can be separated from their parents for years (h/t Ian Walker).
Time for the labor and skills corner, in partnership with Indhira Santos and Michael Weber. Let’s take a tour of the world, starting with Africa: the OECD has a new report on one of my favorite topics, Africa’s urbanization dynamics: based on the Africapolis geo-spatial database (www.africapolis.org), it discusses an array of policy options for inclusive urban development.
In the Middle East, an interesting VoxDev video by Yanagizawa-Drott unpacks recent research women’s employment in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudi men privately believe that women should be allowed to work, but that they underestimate the extent to which other men share their views. This has real-life consequences: wives of men whose misperceptions about the acceptability of female employment have been corrected are more likely to apply and be interviewed for a job. And in Jordan, Winkler and Gonzalez find that the quality of jobs in Jordan is worsening – with additional pressure being exerted by the influx of Syrian refugees. But here is an interesting finding: who is taking the jobs of the future in Jordan? Women (see also their blog here).
Two studies on minimum wage in high-income settings: in Germany, Bossler and Schank show that the introduction of the minimum wage accounts for about half of the recent decrease in wage inequality. In the US, however, Chava et al illustrate potential costs of a one-size-fits-all nationwide minimum wage, and highlight how it can have an adverse effect on the financial health of some small businesses.
Final fireworks: a new NRGI report outlines the many risks, but also opportunities, presented by Resource-Backed Loans – that is, exchanges of oil for infrastructure (which can sometimes be nontransparent and noncompetitive) (h/t Jim Cust). And in case interested in a visualization of ALL determinants of health in detail, GoInvo generated an amazing image mapping and tracing social, genetic, environmental, behavioral and medical causes (there is a poster to download).