Alleviating Poverty: Mobile Communications, Microfinance and Small Business Development Around the World
Source: Brookings Institution
Poverty is one of the most pressing problems around the world. According to statistics from the World Bank, nearly one-quarter of the global population lives at or below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.[i] With so many people struggling for basic subsistence, it is hard for those affected to get out of poverty, gain access to capital, or develop small firms or businesses that help them build a better life.
Yet with the growth of mobile technology, there are new opportunities for individuals and small businesses to lift themselves up. People can use handheld devices to make monetary transfers, arrange for microfinance loans, establish small enterprises, and improve their economic circumstances. This helps them alleviate poverty and create a better situation for themselves and their families.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said that wireless communication is a breakthrough technology that helps to solve the worst problems associated with health care, poverty, and educational access. "Now in every village where I go, someone’s got a cell phone, somebody can make an emergency call, someone can find out the price on the market, someone can start a business empowered by the fact that they can reach a customer or a supplier, someone can drive a taxi or a truck for that reason as well. Everything is changing," said Sachs.[ii]
In this Mobile Economy Project report, Darrell West looks at the growth of handheld devices and investigates the barriers to doing business in the developing world. In particular, West explores how mobile devices enable individual entrepreneurship and small business development. Despite the presence of barriers such as corruption, lack of transparency and capital, and poor infrastructure in many parts of the developing world, there are successful ventures enabled by mobile technology.
The report details some of the cases which illustrate emerging possibilities for alleviating poverty in different countries including:
- The growth of mobile devices
- Mobile money transfer services
- Mobile tools for small businesses
- Microfinance applications
Source: RAND Corporation
From press release:
Hospital emergency departments play a growing role in the U.S. health care system, accounting for a rising proportion of hospital admissions and serving increasingly as an advanced diagnostic center for primary care physicians, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
While often targeted as the most expensive place to get medical care, emergency rooms remain an important safety net for Americans who cannot get care elsewhere and may play a role in slowing the growth of health care costs, according to the study.
Emergency departments are now responsible for about half of all hospital admissions in the United States, accounting for nearly all of the growth in hospital admissions experienced between 2003 and 2009.
Despite evidence that people with chronic conditions such as asthma and heart failure are visiting emergency departments more frequently, the number of hospital admissions for these conditions has remained flat. Researchers say that suggests that emergency rooms may help to prevent some avoidable hospital admissions.
"Use of hospital emergency departments is growing faster than the use of other parts of the American medical system," said Dr. Art Kellermann, the study’s senior author and a senior researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "While more can be done to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to emergency rooms, our research suggests emergency rooms can play a key role in limiting growth of preventable hospital admissions."
Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends
Source: Economic Policy Institute
This paper reviews and analyzes the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor market and workforce and the supply of high-skill temporary foreign workers, who serve as “guestworkers.” It addresses three central issues in the ongoing discussion about the need for high-skill guestworkers in the United States:
- Is there a problem producing enough STEM-educated students at sufficient performance levels to supply the labor market?
- How large is the flow of guestworkers into the STEM workforce and into the information technology (IT) workforce in particular? And what are the characteristics of these workers?
- What are the dynamics of the STEM labor market, and what are the employment and wage trends in the IT labor market?
Analysis of these issues provides the basis for assessing the extent of demand for STEM workers and the impact of guestworker flows on the STEM and IT workforces.
Every day, Americans benefit from public structures that contribute to our quality of life. When we walk into a clean, well-maintained post office; drive on federal highways; send our kids to school knowing they’ll get a hot lunch; or call the Social Security benefits office with a question, we see our federal tax dollars at work, providing public services we rely on.
What most Americans don’t know is that many of the workers keeping our nation humming are paid low wages, earning barely enough to afford essentials like food, health care, utilities and rent. Through federal contracts and other funding, our tax dollars are fueling the low-wage economy and exacerbating inequality. Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements and property leases go to private companies that pay low wages, provide few benefits, and offer employees little opportunity to work their way into the middle class. At the same time, many of these companies are providing their executives with exorbitant compensation.
We find that nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family, making $12 or less per hour. This is more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonalds combined.1 Yet, if anything, this figure underestimates the total number of poorly-paid workers funded by our tax dollars. Our analysis encompasses U.S. workers employed by government contractors, paid by federal health care spending, supported by Small Business Administration loans, working on federal construction grants, and maintaining buildings leased by the federal government. This encompasses the largest share of poorly-paid workers funded by our taxes. However, other streams of funding have yet to be analyzed. For example, loans and subsidies from the Department of Agriculture fund giant agribusinesses that employ more than a million farm workers, while grants from the Department of Education fund low-wage assistant teachers, bus monitors and cooks in Head Start and other programs. Due to lack of data, retail and food service workers for concessionaires of the National Parks Service and other federal agencies also fall outside our analysis.
These are employees working on behalf of America, doing jobs that we have decided are worthy of public funding—yet they’re being treated in a very un-American way. Our nation has a history of ensuring our tax dollars provide decent jobs. From the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act to Executive Order 11246 of 1965, and a host of other laws and executive actions, our laws have mandated that companies working on behalf of the American people are upholding high standards of employment practices. Yet as the nature and prevalence of federal contracting, lending and grant-making have changed, and some laws have been weakened, working people have fallen through the cracks.
Source: Brookings Institution
For the past few decades, it has been widely argued that a college degree is a prerequisite to entering the middle class in the United States. Study after study reminds us that higher education is one of the best investments we can make, and President Obama has called it “an economic imperative.” We all know that, on average, college graduates make significantly more money over their lifetimes than those with only a high school education. What gets less attention is the fact that not all college degrees or college graduates are equal. There is enormous variation in the so-called return to education depending on factors such as institution attended, field of study, whether a student graduates, and post-graduation occupation. While the average return to obtaining a college degree is clearly positive, we emphasize that it is not universally so. For certain schools, majors, occupations, and individuals, college may not be a smart investment. By telling all young people that they should go to college no matter what, we are actually doing some of them a disservice.
Source: Cato Institute
Three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It found that Congress lacked the power to prohibit independent spending on electoral speech by corporations. A later lower-court decision, SpeechNow v. Federal Election Commission, applied Citizens United to such spending and related fundraising by individuals. Concerns about the putative political and electoral consequences of the Citizens United decision have fostered several proposals to amend the Constitution. Most simply propose giving Congress unchecked new power over spending on political speech, power that will be certainly abused. The old and new public purposes cited for restricting political spending and speech (preventing corruption, restoring equality, and others) are not persuasive in general and do not justify the breadth of power granted under these amendments.
Source: Brookings Institution
Over a billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 a day. But that number is falling. This has given credence to the idea that extreme poverty can be eliminated in a generation. A new study by Brookings researchers examines the prospects for ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the factors that will determine progress toward this goal. The interactive tool below allows users to explore the study’s key findings.
Source: RAND Corporation
Section 347 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act called on the Department of Defense to commission an independent assessment of the overseas basing presence of U.S. military forces. As the recipient of that commission, RAND’s National Defense Research Institute conducted an independent assessment of the advisability of changes in the overseas basing presence of U.S. forces based on an evaluation of strategic benefits, risks, and costs. The report characterizes how overseas presence contributes to assurance of allies, deterrence, contingency responsiveness, and security cooperation, along with the risks involved with investing in facilities overseas. It breaks new ground in the understanding of the costs associated with overseas presence, including how permanent and rotational presence costs compare, and provides cost models for policymakers to weigh alternative posture options. To support this understanding of costs the report also lays out the conditions of U.S. installations and levels of host nation support.
The report concludes that there are certain minimum requirements necessary to carry out the current national security strategy, but it is prudent, based upon the net value produced, to maintain an overseas posture that goes beyond these minimums. Additionally, it combines benefit, cost, and risk considerations to distill a number of strategic judgments that have implications for the advisability of considering identified posture changes.
State U Online (PDF)
Source: New America Foundation
Online learning has become a permanent fixture of postsecondary education—approximately 32 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States took at least one online course in 2010. Many for-profit colleges have jumped at the opportunity online learning provides to reach more students. The University of Phoenix, with more than 300,000 online students, is now the largest accredited university in America.
But the nation’s public higher-education system—the twoyear colleges and four-year universities that educate the large majority of all college students—has been visibly slower to embrace the potential of online credentialing. Many of these institutions were founded with a mission to serve their citizens, including those unable to attend in residence. Traditionally, this was done through a combination of extension services, correspondence courses, and other means. Yet even as the technological means to achieve this goal reaches new heights, many public universities are shying away from the challenge.
At a time when educational credentials are more important to individual and collective prosperity than ever before, students need online courses and degree programs that are effective, affordable, and grounded in public values. This report includes an in-depth analysis of how public universities are contending with the challenges and opportunities of online education. It finds that state institutions have tremendous untapped potential to grow enrollment, increase revenues, contribute to economic development, and fulfill their historical missions—if they adopt a series of policies that a few innovative states and public higher-education systems have already pioneered.
To understand why more public institutions haven’t moved as quickly into the virtual world, it helps to begin with similar historical attempts to provide distance education. While the technologies of online learning are new, the underlying conflicts and challenges of serving students at a distance are anything but—indeed, some of them are older than the nation itself.
Bending the Curve: Person-Centered Health Care Reform
Source: Brookings Institution
We propose a framework for health care reform that focuses on supporting person-centered care. With continued innovation toward more personalized care, this is the best way to improve care and health while also bending the curve of health care cost growth.
Our health care system holds great promise. As a result of fundamental breakthroughs in biomedical science, improvements in data systems and network capabilities, and continuing innovation in health care delivery, care is becoming increasingly individualized and prevention-oriented. The best treatment for a patient involves not just specific services covered under traditional approaches to health insurance financing, but also includes new technologies and new kinds of care and support at home and beyond traditional health care settings. These advances require health care providers to work with patients and their caregivers to target increasingly sophisticated treatments and to coordinate care effectively ways that works best for each patient.
Our report’s person-focused reforms aim to support these changes in care—not as an afterthought or as an addition to our health care financing and regulation, but as the core goal. Instead of having to work around fee-for-service (FFS) payments and regulations that can complicate getting the highest-value care in each case, providers and patients will be able to receive more support for the specific approaches to care delivery that can make the most difference. The support comes from aligning reforms in provider payment, benefit design, regulation, and health plan payment and competition. To avoid short-term disruptions, our systematic framework involves a clear path that builds on existing reforms in the public and private sector, supports transitional steps to assist providers, and includes close evaluation and opportunities for adjustments along the way. While our primary goal is better health through better care, we estimate that our reforms would achieve an estimated $300 billion or more in net federal savings in the next decade, and provide a path to sustaining per capita cost growth that is much more in line with per capita growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). After the proposed reforms are implemented in the coming decade, long-term savings from achieving better health and sustainable spending growth will exceed $1 trillion over 20 years. Our proposals can be scaled up or down, and can also be combined with other proposed reforms to achieve additional reductions in health care costs. Our approach enables Congress to focus on overall cost, quality, and access goals that are very difficult to address under current law – so that whatever the spending level, that spending will do more for health.
These issues of health care quality and cost must be addressed. If a clear framework like ours is not implemented, the alternative is likely to be continued reliance on short-term cost controls, including across-the-board cuts in payments like sequestration, or delays and restrictions in both needed coverage updates for vulnerable populations and new types of innovative care—perpetuating large gaps in quality of care.
Our proposals represent an alternative to such care disruptions, cost-shifting, and threats to more innovative, person-focused care. We include proposals for Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance. We also propose a set of system-wide regulatory reforms and other initiatives, including antitrust and liability reforms. While some of these proposals are specific to particular programs and regulations, they are all grounded in our core goal of supporting quality care resulting in lower cost. This means a clear path for moving away from FFS payments and benefits and open-ended subsidies for insurance plan choices toward a direct focus on supporting better care and lower costs at the person level. Our proposals encompass significant reforms – such as modifications in Medicare payment mechanisms and benefits, and a change in the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance. The proposals reflect ideas that have gathered broad support in the past, but also include new approaches for addressing some of their shortcomings. Implementing our reforms together enables them to reinforce each other and create much more momentum for improving care while bending the cost curve.
Source: Economic Policy Institute
Top-down pressure from federal education policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, bolstered by organized advocacy efforts, is making a popular set of market-oriented education “reforms” look more like the new status quo than real reform. Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost at-risk students’ achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps. This new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education examines these assertions by comparing the impacts of these reforms in three large urban school districts – Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago – with student and school outcomes over the same period in other large, high-poverty urban districts. The report finds that the reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment.
Source: RAND Corporation
War has always been a dangerous business, bringing injury, wounds, and death, and — until recently — often disease. What has changed over time, most dramatically in the last 150 or so years, is the care these casualties receive and who provides it. Medical services have become highly organized and are state sponsored. Diseases are now prevented through vaccination and good sanitation. Sedation now ameliorates pain, and antibiotics combat infection. Wounds that once meant amputation or death no longer do so. Transfers from the field to more-capable hospitals are now as swift as aircraft can make them. The mental consequences of war are now seen as genuine illnesses and treated accordingly, rather than punished to the extreme. Likewise, treatment of those disabled by war and of veterans generally has changed markedly — along with who supplies these and other benefits. This book looks at the history of how humanity has cared for its war casualties, from ancient times through the aftermath of World War II. For each historical period, the author examines the care the sick and wounded received in the field and in hospitals, the care given to the disabled veteran and his dependents, and who provided that care and how. He shows how the lessons of history have informed the American experience over time. Finally, the author sums up this history thematically, focusing on changes in the nature and treatment of injuries, organization of services on and off the battlefield, the role of the state in providing care, and the invisible wounds of war.
Source: Chatham House
Food crises are the deadliest natural disasters, resulting in up to 2 million deaths since 1970, yet responses to them are reactive, slow and fragmented.
A new report, Managing Famine Risk: Linking Early Warning to Early Action argues that whilst famine early warning systems have a good track record of predicting food crises, they have a poor track record of triggering early action to protect lives and livelihoods.
Major improvements in the sophistication and capabilities of famine early warning systems provide the opportunity for decisive early action, but also the opportunity for prevarication, delay and buck-passing among governments and humanitarian agencies.
There is also added political pressure not to report food crises, says Rob Bailey, the report’s author.
‘Governments in at-risk countries may suppress famine early warnings if they are concerned it will challenge their record on hunger reduction,’ he said.