Knowledge Note

Economic crises can be particularly arduous for poor and vulnerable people. In particular, job losses stemming from economic downturns undercut the ability of more vulnerable households to support themselves. Public works programs, which help sustain poor households through temporary employment, are one method used by governments to lessen the impacts of crises. Apart from providing people with a source of income, they have the added benefit of helping governments maintain infrastructure and provide services that otherwise might be foregone during crises. But such programs raise important questions. Do they successfully target the poor or do better-off households end up benefitting the most? Do those enrolled in public works programs lose out on other opportunities to support themselves, either through alternative employment or government transfers? The World Bank is focused on helping countries end poverty. Key to this is knowing which programs do and do not yield tangible results. To help policymakers assess the effectiveness of Latvia’s public works program, the World Bank supported an evaluation of the government-sponsored public works initiative, which was launched in response to the global financial crisis of 2008–2010. The evaluation found that the program successfully reached its intended target, helping Latvia’s worst-off cope with the crisis by increasing their short-term incomes. For policymakers and development experts, this evaluation underscores the usefulness of public works programs as emergency social safety net instruments even in upper-middle income countries.

About the Presenters

Human Development Network