This project analyzes the socio-economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the intervening role of social protections, on families with children in eight Latin American countries. The region, with high levels of inequality, labor informality, and urbanization, has been particularly hard hit by both pandemic deaths and economic effects. The social protection responses, however, have varied dramatically, from a massive emergency assistance plan in Brazil to virtually no additional cash transfer aid in Mexico.
We will specifically examine:
a. The actual access to and sufficiency of cash transfers, in-kind transfers (primarily food) and services (primarily health care) during the pandemic
b. The effects of social protection on key indicators of well-being, by comparing children and families with and without social protection and with different sufficiency and quality of social protection
c. The role of social protection in households’ willingness/ability to adhere to social distancing measures, issues of attribution and perceptions of role of government.
Given the particular vulnerability of children (almost half of children in Latin America lived in poverty already before the pandemic) and the fact that their wellbeing has been less visible (with physical school closures and shelter-at-home policies), systematic surveys of households with children are imperative. Yet, to date, we do not have them.
We plan to fill this gap. The experience of this past year allows us to systematically study in real time variables related to (i) the socioeconomic shock created by social distancing, (ii) the social protection programs deployed to cope with this shock; and (iii) how these programs affected and mitigated adverse effects on the wellbeing of households with children.
Our research project will be conducted by the principal investigator, Merike Blofield, and Juliana Martínez Franzoni, Professor of Comparative Social Policy and Humboldt Chair (2021) at the University of Costa Rica, the top-ranked university in Central America, and leading expert in social protection in Latin America. The project is international by its nature, and we seek to publish results in peer-reviewed journals and policy platforms.
We will conduct representative surveys of caregivers of children, in eight Latin American countries, with phone surveys of approximately 1,500 respondents per country. This will provide us with a pooled dataset of about 12,000 cases, allowing us to control for a broad variety of individual, household, community and national-level factors.
Our surveys will be able to test a variety of hypotheses from the social policy and cash transfer literature, which will not only contribute to our theoretical understanding of social protections, wellbeing and perceptions, but will also be critical for policy design for any future socioeconomic shock preparedness in countries with high levels of labor informality and lower state capacity.