A report by Bonnet et al sets out a rich set of findings on informality and its close relationship with poverty (h/t Luca Pellerano). Examining data from 28 low and middle-income countries, two key insights emerge: on one hand, in most countries the poverty rate of informal workers is between 2 to 10 times higher than that of formal workers; on the other hand, anywhere from just over 50% to as high as 98% of poor workers are informally employed. More than 80% of workers from poor households are employed in the informal sector in 21 out of the 28 countries.
Turning to high-income settings, an Urban Institute brief by Minton and Giannarelli lays out a series of stylized facts (some stunning) about the US safety net. Examining data from key programs (e.g., SNAP, TANF, WIC), they show that 60 million people, or 1/5 of the population, is served by at least one of these schemes; 1/3 of American kids is covered by such interventions; most participants (50%) are working-age adults, and 1/4 of the poor (13 million people) remains uncovered.
Moving to Asia, Niehaus provides some thoughtful reflections on India’s NREGA achievements by incorporating biometric cards in delivery (e.g., leakages down by 41%) as well as on the program’s effects on employment (+13%) and poverty (-17%) (results based on his and Muralidharan’s research shared several months ago, see here).
What’s new in LAC? An IZA paper by Boo and Creamer explores the effects of Bono 10000, the flagship conditional cash transfer in Honduras, on early childhood development. They find significant impacts on cognitive development in children 0-5 years old, with an average effect size of 0.13 standard deviations (SD). This is almost entirely attributable to the health component of the program (the education one targets school-age children), via some slight change in behaviors: Bono decreased the probability of maternal employment, increased maternal self-esteem, augmented children health checkups attendance, as well as the purchase of more nutritious food.
Speaking of health, a forthcoming article by Stoop et al find that in Benin, Voodoo adherence of the mother is associated with lower uptake of preventive health-care measures and worse child health outcomes. And since I mentioned mothers… should transfers always be provided to women? An thought-provoking blog by Jaramillo Mejia challenges this notion.
From conditional to unconditional schemes: Gelders and Bailey-Athias evaluated the Senior Citizens’ Grant program in Uganda. Although the benefit level is quite modest ($7/month), the program yielded a range of impacts, e.g., household expenditures went up by 33%, probably due to multipliers (in fact the likelihood of possessing livestock slightly increased), and with poverty declining by 19 percentage points.
More unconditional schemes, but for everyone: a few months ago, I shared the Banerjee et al paper on universal basic income, which is now available in the NBER working papers collection. The paper provides a set of reflections as well as a survey of the literature on how UBI would, or would not, address specific barriers like lack of credit, insurance or psychological factors among low-income people. It also briefly reviews the lit on targeting and its costs (section 4) (h/t Will Wiseman).
A couple of resources on resilience. Can blockchain, a form of ‘distributed ledger technologies’, enhance humanitarian assistance? A great ODI report by Coppi and Fast presents lessons from 5 cases studies (section 3) on the effects of such tech on transparency, efficiency, scale and sustainability of operations. It shows that blockchain can indeed deliver a range of benefits on those dimensions, while a range of challenges persist – e.g., program accountability may be undermined through a lack of meaningful consent and engagement by beneficiaries.
In a WD article, He raises a dilemma for post-disaster reconstruction: do people affected by natural calamities and resettled elsewhere want to go back to their villages? The analysis shows that in Nepal, households resettled after the massive 2015 earthquake want to stay at their temporary shelter site and make it a permanent residence. Bonus: what do we know about cash transfers and education in emergencies? A review by ECHO et al unbundles the questions and provides a series of rich nuggets and take-aways (hint: experience is quite limited).
In terms of a different, every-day form of crisis… what can be done against urban crime and violence? An IPA summary by Blattman et al lays out main results from an experiment in Bogota`: neither more policing nor more municipal services are effective if taken individually, but combined they can have sizable impact (-57% in reported crimes) (h/t/ Markus Goldstein).
Looking for weekend readings? Maxwell reviewed two new fascinating books, namely Collier’s volume on the future of capitalism and Baldwin’s work on globalization and robotics (see also his views on the OECD aid policy).
Finally, if in life health comes before income, Southern Europe got priorities right — Spain and Italy are the healthiest countries worldwide according to the Bloomberg index.