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It’s possible to break the working poverty vicious circle

By Appolos Christian

Put yourselves in the shoes of a vulnerable worker in a devel­oping or emerging country: You have a job but you don’t earn much, so you struggle to make ends meet. You know that if you had the chance to improve your skills you could get a better job, but you simply can’t take time off work because you need the money.

This vicious circle is the reality for the 630 million people worldwide who work but fail to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.

Governments around the world have for decades sought to develop and implement policies that both protect workers’ incomes while helping them move into better jobs. The task of balancing these two ob­jectives has, however, proven to be complex. One of the problems gov­ernments have faced is that helping people make ends meet today may not enable them to benefit from fu­ture opportunities and escape pov­erty in the longer-term. To achieve these two objectives, governments have traditionally developed distinct programmes, which were often the responsibility of different ministries. This type of approach has not been effective.

In 2014, our team launched a research project to find answers to this conundrum. We began by studying employment promotion policies in Latin American coun­tries, such as training, start-up in­centives or job search assistance. At the time these policies were criti­cized in the region as being too ex­pensive and not particularly effec­tive. However, our research found evidence that these policies had helped workers find jobs quickly and upgrade their skills.

Yet, our research also identified one important challenge: Many people who should have benefited from these programmes did not take part, often because they were not receiving enough income sup­port to cover their basic needs.

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