IZA World of Labor


Low-income countries differ from higher-income countries in that they have large informal sectors, greater prevalence of self-employment and subsistence agriculture, low female labor participation rates and poor labor market conditions. As labor is most often the only asset of someone in poverty, policies that are not associated with job creation may fail to reduce poverty. Hence, development deals with the potential of labor economics to address those challenges.

  • Do payroll tax cuts boost formal jobs in developing countries?

    Payroll tax cuts in developing economies might be beneficial to the formal sector, even when the informal sector is large

    Carmen Pagés, March 2017
    Informal employment accounts for more than half of total employment in Latin America and the Caribbean, and an even higher percentage in Africa and South Asia. It is associated with lack of social insurance, low tax collection, and low productivity jobs. Lowering payroll taxes is a potential lever to increase formal employment and extend social insurance coverage among the labor force. However, the effects of tax cuts vary across countries, often resulting in large wage shifts but relatively small employment effects. Cutting payroll taxes requires levying other taxes to compensate for lost revenue, which may be difficult in developing economies.
  • Upgrading technology in Central and Eastern European economies

    Existing policies in Eastern Europe will not sufficiently promote technological innovation

    Slavo Radosevic, February 2017
    The future growth of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) depends on upgrading technology, exporting and coupling domestic technology efforts while improving their position in global value chains. Current policies in the region are not geared to these tasks, despite the availability of huge financial opportunities in the form of EU structural funds. Existing policies are overly focused on research and development (R&D) and neglect sources of productivity growth, such as management practices, skills, quality, and engineering. The challenge is how to design industrial and innovation policies so that they promote modernization and drive structural change.
  • Does unemployment insurance offer incentives to take jobs in the formal sector?

    Unemployment insurance can protect against income loss and create formal employment

    Mariano Bosch, October 2016
    Unemployment insurance can be an efficient tool to provide protection for workers against unemployment and foster formal job creation in developing countries. How much workers value this protection and to what extent it allows a more efficient job search are two key parameters that determine its effectiveness. However, evidence shows that important challenges remain in the introduction and expansion of unemployment insurance in developing countries. These challenges range from achieving coverage in countries with high informality, financing the scheme without further distorting the labor market, and ensuring progressive redistribution.
  • What can be expected from productive inclusion programs?

    Grants and training programs are great complements to social assistance to help people out of poverty

    Jamele Rigolini, October 2016
    Productive inclusion programs provide an integrated package of services, such as grants and training, to promote self-employment and wage employment among the poor. They show promising long-term impacts, and are often proposed as a way to graduate the poor out of social assistance. Nevertheless, neither productive inclusion nor social assistance will be able to solve the broader poverty challenge independently. Rather, the future is in integrating productive inclusion into the existing social assistance system, though this poses several design, coordination, and implementation challenges.
  • How do adult returns to schooling affect children’s enrollment?

    Raising future expected monetary gains to schooling and poor families’ current incomes promotes school enrollment in developing countries

    Kenneth A. Swinnerton, October 2016
    Universal completion of secondary education by 2030 is among the targets set by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Higher expected adult wages traced to schooling may play a major role in reaching this target as they are predicted to induce increased school enrollment for children whose families wish to optimally invest in their children’s future. However, low incomes and the obligation to meet immediate needs may forestall such investment. Studies suggest that school enrollment in developing countries is positively correlated with higher expected future wages, but poor families continue to under-enroll their children.
  • Can cash transfers reduce child labor?

    Cash transfers can reduce child labor if structured well and if they account for the reasons children work

    Furio C. Rosati, September 2016
    Cash transfers are a popular and successful means of tackling household vulnerability and promoting human capital investment. They can also reduce child labor, especially when it is a response to household vulnerability. But if not properly designed, cash transfers that promote children’s education can increase their economic activities in order to pay the additional costs of schooling. The efficacy of cash transfers may also be reduced if the transfers enable investment in productive assets that boost the returns to child labor. The impact of cash transfers must thus be assessed as part of the entire social protection system.
  • Do global value chains create jobs?

    Impacts of GVCs depend on lead firms, specialization, skills, and institutions

    Thomas Farole, August 2016
    Global value chains (GVCs) describe the cross-national activities and inputs required to bring a product or service to the market. While they can boost exports and productivity, the resulting labor market impacts vary significantly across developing countries. Some experience large-scale manufacturing employment, while others see a shift in demand for labor from manufacturing to services, and from lower to higher skills. Several factors shape the way in which a country’s labor market will be impacted by GVC integration, including the type of sector, lead firms’ strategies, domestic skills base, and the institutional environment.
  • Can higher education reduce inequality in developing countries?

    Expanding higher education might solve rising youth unemployment and widening inequality in Africa

    Abebe Shimeles, July 2016
    Developing countries often face two well-known structural problems: high youth unemployment and high inequality. In recent decades, policymakers have increased the share of government spending on education in developing countries to address both of these issues. The empirical literature offers mixed results on which type of education is most suitable to improve gainful employment and reduce inequality: is it primary, secondary, or tertiary education? Investigating recent literature on the returns to education in selected developing countries in Africa can help to answer this question.
  • Access to public transport and labor informality

    Poor public transport can reduce employment in the formal sector

    Public transport infrastructure has not kept up with the demands of growing populations in cities in developing countries. Infrastructure provision has historically been biased against less affluent areas, so access to formal jobs is often difficult and costly for a large part of the lower-income population. As a result, low-income workers may be discouraged from commuting to formal jobs, lack information on job opportunities, and face discrimination. Through these channels, constrained accessibility can result in higher rates of job informality. Reducing informality can be a target for well-designed transport policies.
  • Do economic reforms hurt or help the informal labor market?

    The evidence is mixed on whether and how economic reforms benefit informal labor

    Saibal Kar, June 2016
    The evidence is mixed on whether informal labor in developing countries benefits from trade and labor market reforms. Reforms lead to higher wages and improved employment conditions in the informal sector in some cases, and to the opposite effect in others. At a cross-country level, lifting trade protection boosts informal-sector employment. The direction and size of the impacts on informal-sector employment and wages are determined by capital mobility and the interactions between trade and labor market reforms and public policies, such as monitoring the formal sector. To guarantee best practice policymakers need to take these interdependencies into account.
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