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. Contributions to this subject area deal with the potential of labor economics to address those challenges.

  • Do school inputs crowd out parents’ investments in their children?

    Public education tends to crowd out parents’ time and money, but careful policy design may mitigate this

    Birgitta Rabe, May 2019
    Many countries around the world are making substantial and increasing public investments in children by providing resources for schooling from early years through to adolescence. Recent research has looked at how parents respond to children’s schooling opportunities, highlighting that public inputs can alternatively encourage or crowd out parental inputs. Most evidence finds that parents reduce their own efforts as schooling improves, dampening the efficiency of government expenditure. Policymakers may thus want to focus government provision on schooling inputs that are less easily substituted.
  • Redesigning pension systems

    The institutional structure of pension systems should follow population developments

    Marek Góra, April 2019
    For decades, pension systems were based on the rising revenue generated by an expanding population (the so-called demographic dividend). As changes in fertility and longevity created new population structures, however, the dividend disappeared, but pension systems failed to adapt. They are kept solvent by increasing redistributions from the shrinking working-age population to retirees. A simple and transparent structure and individualization of pension system participation are the key preconditions for an intergenerationally just old-age security system.
  • Self-employment and poverty in developing countries

    The right policies can help the self-employed to boost their earnings above the poverty level and earn more for the work they do

    Gary S. Fields, March 2019
    A key way for the world’s poor to escape poverty is to earn more for their labor. Most of the world’s poor people are self-employed, but because there are few opportunities in most developing countries for them to earn enough to escape poverty, they are working hard but working poor. Two key policy planks in the fight against poverty should be: raising the returns to self-employment and creating more opportunities to move from self-employment into higher paying wage employment.
  • Enforcement of labor regulations in developing countries

    Enforcement improves legal compliance, but its impact on welfare is country specific and unclear

    Lucas Ronconi, March 2019
    More than half of private sector employees in the developing world do not receive legally mandated labor benefits. These regulations have typically been enacted by democratically elected governments, and are valued by both formal and informal workers. Increasing public enforcement (e.g. inspections, fines, and workers’ access to the judiciary) can be a powerful tool to reduce violations (e.g. increase the number of employees earning above the minimum wage). Which factors determine enforcement, and whether enforcement produces more social benefits than costs, are, however, unanswered questions.
  • Social protection programs for women in developing countries

    How to design social protection programs that poor women can benefit from

    Lisa Cameron, February 2019
    Women are more likely than men to work in the informal sector and to drop out of the labor force for a time, such as after childbirth, and to be impeded by social norms from working in the formal sector. This work pattern undermines productivity, increases women's vulnerability to income shocks, and impairs their ability to save for old age. Many developing countries have introduced social protection programs to protect poor people from social and economic risks, but despite women's often greater need, the programs are generally less accessible to women than to men.
  • Labor market consequences of the college boom around the world

    Better information on university quality may reduce underemployment and overeducation in developing countries

    As the number of secondary school graduates rises, many developing countries expand the supply of public and private universities or face pressure to do so. However, several factors point to the need for caution, including weak job markets, low-quality university programs, and job–education mismatches. More university graduates in this context could exacerbate unemployment, underemployment, and overeducation of professionals. Whether governments should regulate the quantity or quality of university programs, however, depends on the specific combination of factors in each country.
  • Female labor force participation and development

    Improving outcomes for women takes more than raising labor force participation—good jobs are important too

    Sher Verick, December 2018
    The relationship between female labor force participation and economic development is far more complex than often portrayed in both the academic literature and policy debates. Due to various economic and social factors, such as the pattern of growth, education attainment, and social norms, trends in female labor force participation do not conform consistently with the notion of a U-shaped relationship with GDP. Beyond participation rates, policymakers need to focus on improving women’s access to quality employment.
  • Does increasing the minimum wage reduce poverty in developing countries?

    Whether raising minimum wages reduces—or increases—poverty depends on the characteristics of the labor market

    T. H. Gindling, November 2018
    Raising the minimum wage in developing countries could increase or decrease poverty, depending on labor market characteristics. Minimum wages target formal sector workers—a minority in most developing countries—many of whom do not live in poor households. Whether raising minimum wages reduces poverty depends not only on whether formal sector workers lose jobs as a result, but also on whether low-wage workers live in poor households, how widely minimum wages are enforced, how minimum wages affect informal workers, and whether social safety nets are in place.
  • Compensating displaced workers

    Uncoordinated unemployment insurance and severance pay do a poor job of insuring against losses resulting from job displacement

    Donald O. Parsons, September 2018
    Job displacement poses a serious earnings threat to long-tenured workers through unemployment spells and lower re-employment wages. The prevailing method of insuring job displacement losses involves an uncoordinated combination of unemployment insurance and severance pay. Less developed countries often rely exclusively on public mandating of employer severance pay due to the administrative complexity of unemployment insurance systems. If both options are operational, systematic integration of the two is important, although perhaps not possible if severance pay is voluntarily provided.
  • Defining informality vs mitigating its negative effects

    More important than defining and measuring informality is focusing on reducing its detrimental consequences

    There are more informal workers than formal workers across the globe, and yet there remains confusion as to what makes workers or firms informal and how to measure the extent of it. Informal work and informal economic activities imply large efficiency and welfare losses, in terms of low productivity, low earnings, sub-standard working conditions, and lack of social insurance coverage. Rather than quibbling over definitions and measures of informality, it is crucial for policymakers to address these correlates of informality in order to mitigate the negative efficiency and welfare effects.
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