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Overview: Social Protection and Labor

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In a world filled with risk and potential, social protection and labor systems help people and families find jobs, improve productivity, cope with shocks, invest in the health and education of their children, as well as the protection for the aging population.

Social protection programs, which comprise both social assistance (such as cash transfers, school feeding, targeted food assistance and subsidies) and social insurance (such as old-age, survivorship, disability pensions, and unemployment insurance), are a powerful tool to reduce poverty and vulnerability. They can have a direct, positive impact on poor families by building human capital through better health, more schooling, and greater skills.

Jobs, too, are critical for reducing poverty and promoting prosperity. All countries, regardless of income, face challenges creating and sustaining adequate job opportunities for their citizens. According to the 2013 World Development Report, advancing the global jobs agenda will require the right investment in people – the right skills for people to secure good jobs, the right protection for people against risks arising from volatile economies, and the right mechanisms to help people transition smoothly and safely from one job to another.

The World Bank supports social protection and labor programs in developing countries as a central part of its mission to reduce poverty through sustainable and inclusive growth. The Bank almost tripled its social protection and labor lending in the last few years to help countries respond to the food, fuel and financial crises -- from an annual average of $1.6 billion in 1998-2008, to an annual average of $4.2 billion for 2009-2011.


Many social protection and labor programs are fragmented and lack harmonization, hampering their effectiveness. The World Bank’s 10-year social protection and labor strategy’s main objective is to help countries move from fragmented approaches to harmonized systems. It focuses on making these systems more inclusive of the vulnerable and more attuned to building people’s capacities and improving the productivity of their work. The strategy lays out ways to deepen the Bank’s involvement, capacity, knowledge, and impact in social protection and labor.

Rapid Social Response Program

The Rapid Social Response (RSR) program provides catalytic resources in relatively small amounts to help low-income countries build social protection and labor systems, so that they are prepared for future crises. The World Bank receives support from the Russian Federation, Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Sweden, and currently assists 80 activities worldwide through the RSR program.

Open Data for Social Protection and Labor

In 2012, the Bank launched the Atlas of Social Protection with Indicators on Resilience and Equity (ASPIRE) as the first global compilation of data from household surveys documenting social protection. It provides a worldwide snapshot of social protection coverage, targeting, and impact on well-being by identifying countries’ social protection programs, grouping them into categories, harmonizing core indicators, and detailing people’s well-being. ASPIRE is currently being expanded to include indicators on Social Protection and Labor program design and performance based on administrative records in the areas of social insurance, social assistance and labor market programs. The Bank also offers cross-country data for mandatory pension systems around the world.

In collaboration with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Youth Employment Network (YEN), and the International Labor Organization
(ILO), the Bank has also developed a Youth Employment Inventory that provides comparative information on more than 500 youth employment programs in around 90 countries.


Bank support for social protection and labor programs has achieved the following results:

  • Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program reaches about 7.6 million chronically food-insecure people or 8% of Ethiopia’s population, and is set to cover 8.3 million people by 2015. In response to the financial crisis, the program supported more than 1.2 million new households.
  • In Brazil, the Bank-supported Bolsa Familia program covered 12 million poor households (about 25% of the population) by providing monthly payments to families that send their children to school, meet vaccination requirements, and utilize health services. This program has been instrumental in reducing poverty and inequality.
  • A job training program in Chile helped some 145,000 individuals with incomplete formal schooling, 92,000 of whom were able to finish their basic or secondary education.
  • The World Report on Disability, the first ever of its kind, has significantly contributed to the international discourse on disability and development.
  • The Bank has led efforts to reform pay-as-you-go defined pension benefit schemes. The Bank has also provided capacity building and knowledge transfer on improving old-age income security to more than 100 countries.

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