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.

  • 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.
  • Adult literacy programs in developing countries

    While mostly missing their primary objectives, adult literacy programs can still improve key socio-economic outcomes

    Niels-Hugo Blunch, July 2017
    In addition to the traditional education system targeting children and youth, one potentially important vehicle to improve literacy and numeracy skills is adult literacy programs (ALPs). In many developing countries, however, these programs do not seem to achieve these hoped for, ex ante, objectives and have therefore received less attention, if not been largely abandoned, in recent years. But, evidence shows that ALPs do affect other important socio-economic outcomes such as health, household income, and labor market participation by enhancing participants’ health knowledge and income-generating activities.
  • Are apprenticeships beneficial in sub-Saharan Africa?

    As they do not lead to high-productivity jobs, apprenticeships in sub-Saharan Africa fail to generate high incomes

    Francis Teal, June 2016
    Apprenticeships are the most common form of non-academic training in sub-Saharan Africa. Most apprenticeships are provided by the private sector, for a fee, and lead to self-employment rather than to wage jobs. Where the effects have been measured, they show that earnings are not higher, on average, for people who did an apprenticeship than for those who did not. This presents a conundrum. Why would people pay for apprenticeship training that does not benefit them? Research reveals that apprenticeships do benefit some people more than others. Especially striking is that the returns to apprenticeships can fall with the level of education.
  • Are social security programs progressive?

    Whether social security programs reduce inequality is not related to the amount they redistribute

    Alvaro Forteza, July 2015
    Social security programs generally seek to provide insurance and to reduce poverty and inequality. Providing insurance requires little redistribution. But reducing inequality and alleviating poverty do require redistribution. To reduce inequality, programs must redistribute income, but redistributing income is not the same as reducing inequality. While some programs redistribute large amounts of income without noticeably reducing inequality, others reduce inequality with less redistribution and fewer labor market distortions. A non-contributory tier, which provides benefits without requiring contributions, is a key component for reducing inequality.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Collective bargaining in developing countries

    Negotiating work rules at the firm level instead of the industry level could lead to productivity gains

    Carlos Lamarche, September 2015
    Because theoretical arguments differ on the economic impact of collective bargaining agreements in developing countries, empirical studies are needed to provide greater clarity. Recent empirical studies for some Latin American countries have examined whether industry- or firm-level collective bargaining is more advantageous for productivity growth. Although differences in labor market institutions and in coverage of collective bargaining agreements limit the generalizability of the findings, studies suggest that work rules may raise productivity when negotiated at the firm level but may sometimes lower productivity when negotiated at the industry level.
  • Compliance with minimum wage laws in developing countries

    Institutional, individual, firm, and local labor market characteristics are critical for understanding non-compliance with minimum wage laws

    Haroon Bhorat, August 2014
    The level of compliance with minimum wage laws often depends on factors specific to each labor market. In most developing countries, a substantial share of workers still earns less than the legal minimum. Enforcement has not kept up with growth in regulations to protect workers from low wages and poor working conditions. Several institutional structures shape enforcement, including the role of labor inspectors and approaches to compliance, and these and other variables can be analyzed to explore their effects on the level of minimum wage violations.
  • Designing labor market regulations in developing countries

    Labor market regulation should aim to improve the functioning of the labor market while protecting workers

    Gordon Betcherman, May 2014
    Governments regulate employment to protect workers and to improve labor market efficiency. However, employment regulations can be controversial, often complicated by opposing ideological views. Thus, it is important for policymakers in developing countries to base decisions on empirical evidence of the impacts of these regulations. The majority of the evidence suggests that most countries have set their regulations in the appropriate range. But it can be costly when countries either overregulate or underregulate their labor market.
  • Designing unemployment benefits in developing countries

    For unemployment benefit programs, the key policy issues are the level of benefits and subsidies and the types of taxes used to finance them

    David A. Robalino, July 2014
    In reforming unemployment benefit systems, the policy debate should be on the appropriate level of benefits, the subsidies needed for people who cannot contribute enough, and how to finance the subsidies, rather than on whether unemployment insurance or individual unemployment savings accounts are better. Unemployment insurance finances subsidies through implicit taxes on savings, while individual savings accounts with solidarity funds finance subsidies through payroll taxes. Taxes on certain consumption goods and real estate could be considered as well and could be less distortionary.
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