Research / BFI Working PaperApr 12, 2021

Do Workfare Programs Live Up to Their Promises? Experimental Evidence from Cote D’Ivoire

Marianne Bertrand, Bruno Crépon, Alicia Marguerie, Patrick Premand

Workfare programs are one of the most popular social protection and employment policy instruments in the developing world. They evoke the promise of efficient targeting, as well as immediate and lasting impacts on participants’ employment, earnings, skills and behaviors. This paper evaluates contemporaneous and post-program impacts of a public works intervention in Côte d’Ivoire. The program was randomized among urban youths who self-selected to participate and provided seven months of employment at the formal minimum wage. Randomized subsets of beneficiaries also received complementary training on basic entrepreneurship or job search skills. During the program, results show limited impacts on the likelihood of employment, but a shift toward wage jobs, higher earnings and savings, as well as changes in work habits and behaviors. Fifteen months after the program ended, savings stock remain higher, but there are no lasting impacts on employment or behaviors, and only limited impacts on earnings. Machine learning techniques are applied to assess whether program targeting can improve. Significant heterogeneity in impacts on earnings is found during the program but not post-program. Departing from self-targeting improves performance: a range of practical targeting mechanisms achieve impacts close to a machine learning benchmark by maximizing contemporaneous impacts without reducing post-program impacts. Impacts on earnings remain substantially below program costs even under improved targeting.

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