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Sustainable Communities

What are we learning about the impacts of public works programs on employment and violence? Early findings from ongoing evaluations in fragile states

Eric Mvukiyehe's picture

Labor-intensive public works (LIPW) programs are a popular policy intended to provide temporary employment opportunities to vulnerable populations through work-intensive projects, such as the development and maintenance of local infrastructure, that do not require special skills. For a review of LIPW programs (design, evidence and implementation), see Subbarao et al. here. In fragile states, LIPW programs are also presumed to contribute to social and political stability. The developed infrastructure allows for the implementation of other development and peacekeeping activities, while employment opportunities may help prevent at-risk youth from being recruited by armed groups. Despite their popularity and presumed impact on beneficiaries, the evidence base of LIPW programs has been surprisingly weak.
The Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) unit, in collaboration with the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Cross Cutting Solutions Area (FCV-CSSA) and the Social Protection and Labor Global Practice (SPL-GP), is carrying out a multi-country set of 7 Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) of LIPW programs targeting around 40,000 households across 5 countries: Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Tunisia. This initiative is part of a broader research program on Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV) — a portfolio of 35 impact evaluations in over 25 countries that focuses on 5 key priority areas: (i) jobs for the poor and at-risk youth; (ii) public sector governance/civil service reforms; (ii) political economy of post-conflict reconstruction; (iv) gender-based violence; and (v) urban crime and violence.

Why don’t people migrate more? A lab experiment of sequential decision-making: Guest post by Zach Barnett-Howell

This is the sixteenth in this year’s job market series

Darling you got to let me know // Should I stay or should I go?
One way to escape poverty is to leave it behind. Literally. Moving from a poorer to richer area is so advantageous for individuals that an entire literature on migration has developed to explain why more people don't move.

If you say that you are mine // I’ll be here ‘till the end of time
Bryan, Chowdhury, and Mobarak conducted an experiment in northwestern Bangladesh to induce migration. They offered households a small subsidy to migrate, a round-trip bus ticket worth $8.50. This proved sufficient for people to migrate, and those who migrated earned more and enjoyed higher levels of welfare. So it brought up a new question: why hadn’t those households already decided to migrate?
This immobility is problematic because it’s not supposed to happen. Foundational migration theories, like the Harris-Todaro model, were designed to explain movement from poorer to richer areas. These migrations made sense: people were arbitraging wages and other amenities across space, receiving more by being elsewhere. But how can we explain the opposite—people who don’t migrate—when the welfare gains would be tremendous?

If I go, there will be trouble // if I stay it will be double
In my job market paper I explain why people rationally would not make moves that offer higher welfare. I do this by modeling migration as a sequential decision where people try to figure out which location would suit them best.

Ticket to Ride? Building Efficient and Equitable Cities with Bus Rapid Transit: Guest post by Nick Tsivanidis

This is the fifth in this year’s job market series.
By 2050, 2.5 billion people will move into cities with the vast majority doing so in the developing world (United Nations 2014). This has the potential to lift millions out of poverty by increasing the productivity of firms and workers who benefit from agglomeration. However, rapid and unplanned growth can lead to sprawling, inefficient cities with hours wasted stuck in traffic. Governments will spend vast sums on mass transit systems to reduce commute times (McKinsey 2016), but measuring their benefits is challenging. While individuals save time on any particular commute, their decisions of where to live and work will change as new alternatives become attractive and land and labor markets adjust. The lack of detailed intra-city data in less developed countries coinciding with the construction of large transit systems makes evaluating their causal impact even more daunting.
In my job market paper, I ask the question: how large are the economic gains to improving public transit within cities and how are they distributed between low- and high-skilled workers? I construct detailed data across 2,800 census tracts from before and after the opening of the world’s largest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system–TransMilenio–in Bogotá, Colombia. I develop a new reduced form methodology derived from general equilibrium theory to empirically assess TransMilenio’s impact on city structure and use this framework to quantify its aggregate and distributional effects.

Are holistic intimate partner and sexual and gender based violence prevention randomized control trials structurally low-powered?

Guest post by Arthur Alik-Lagrange and Lea Rouanet

Impact evaluations of interventions aiming at reducing intra-partner and sexual and gender-based violence (IPV-SGBV) have mostly failed at detecting statistically significant impacts.

Making Disaster Relief More Like Funeral Societies: A Review of Dercon and Clarke’s Dull Disasters

David McKenzie's picture

I was recently at the Novafrica conference in Lisbon, where one of the keynote talks was given by Stefan Dercon. He based it around a newly released short book he has written with Daniel Clarke, called Dull Disasters (open access version). The title is meant to indicate both the aim to make dealing with disasters a dull event rather than media circus, as well as to discuss ways to ‘dull’ or reduce the impact of disasters.
Stefan started his talk by noting that disaster relief may well be the part of the whole international development and humanitarian system that is the least efficient and has had the least research on it. The book starts by noting the predictability of responses “every time a natural disaster hits any part of the world, the newspaper headlines ten days later can be written in advance: ‘why isn’t the response more coordinated?’. He gives the examples of the responses to the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, to Hurricane Katrina, and to Ebola as examples. But he then notes the crux of the problem “…The truth is everybody argues for coordination but nobody likes to be coordinated”.