NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Could Mexico's Progresa Program Be A Model?

May 2, 2002

Some economists are urging the Bush administration to take a look at Mexico's Progresa program if they want to find a model for a foreign aid program that achieves accountability and results in economic development. Progresa involves government cash payments to the low-income families of youngsters who regularly attend school and visit health-care providers.

The program has reportedly reduced child labor, increased educational levels and improved health and nutrition among the poor.

  • The payments extend from grades 3 through 9 and vary from about $10 to $35 a month -- with girls being paid higher than boys because girls have a higher dropout rate in Mexico.
  • Families are also given grants to buy school supplies and monthly food subsidies if they get medical checkups, immunizations and attend health lectures.
  • In 2000, some 2.5 million rural families received the benefits -- valued at about $1 billion.
  • Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua and other countries have started similar programs or are in the process of doing so.

While nearly 90 percent of rural Mexican children attend primary school, 45 percent drop out after the sixth grade. Enrollments also fall steeply after the ninth grade, when 42 percent of students leave.

Progresa increased transitions to secondary school by nearly 20 percent. Educational attainment has been estimated to increase by about two-thirds of a year. Larger effects would probably arise if benefits were extended beyond the ninth grade.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene: A Model for Evaluating the Use of Development Dollars South of the Border," New York Times, May 2, 2002.


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