Structural Heterogeneity and Poor Microenterprises in Argentina
Marta Bekerman and Cecilia Rikap
Different visions of social policy

In an introductory manner, we could define social policy as policies that seek to strengthen equity and/or to improve distribution. The first objective aims at ensuring equality of opportunities for all people, whereas improvements in distribution, whether through income or assets, seek to address situations of social inequality. In many cases, income redistribution policies (we are not including salary policies here) tend to be social assistance policies whereas policies oriented to redistribute assets (education, training and socioproductive policies in general) clearly have a capacity-building approach. On the other hand, both social assistance policies and those that seek asset redistribution can be focalized or universal in nature. That is to say, these policies can target a specific sector of the population that fulfills certain pre-established requisites or they can be open to the entire community.

From another perspective, Bonvecchi and Smulovitz (2008: 127-139) introduce three predominant visions of social policy. A first group includes policies that they consider seek to regenerate social ties and emphasize the importance of reincorporating excluded people into society, distinguishing between the recent poor and the structural poor. The recent poor would have the capacity for reinsertion to the market economy, whereas the structural poor would not. This is why social policy should be focalized, to make it more efficient given the aforementioned segmentation and requiring fewer resources in comparison with universal strategies. This group would prioritize productive policies, including the granting of microcredits, the development of associative capacities, a fight against child labor, the development of tutelary accompaniment for microenterprises and financing of communitybased organizations that were consulted during policy design.

A second group sees social policy as a consequence of economic policy. In other words, the type of economic growth that is sought will determine social policy content. This vision seeks the incorporation of all excluded people to the formal employment market and their access to healthcare and social security.

The third, and last, group includes all those who consider social policy to be a guarantor of human rights. Thus, a minimum level of income (or minimum insertion income) and dignified living conditions should be guaranteed for all individuals. This group prefers universal policies over focalized policies, the latter of which should tend to be eliminated.

The recent Argentine experience presents a broad spectrum of social policies, including those oriented to address shortterm urgencies in the face of the dramatic crisis of 2001, as we will see below.

National government programs

Within this group of policies, the Unemployed Heads of Household Plan (“Plan Jefes/as de Hogar Desocupados”-PJJHD) stands out. This plan was implemented by the Ministry of Labor to target poor homes with children under the age of 18 (or children with disabilities of any age) in which the head of household is currently unemployed. This policy arose in the year 2002 and according to its opening decree, this plan “ to be applied as long as the employment emergency lasts,” with an initial deadline of December 31, 2002. The plan was founded upon two main objectives: job creation and income maintenance. According to a study, the scarce availability of material and financial goods and services at a municipal level, in conjunction with the lack of technological assistance and limited local management capacity, determined that the labor activities carried out by program beneficiaries generated products of reduced economic significance and limited social utility (Monza y Giacometti, 2003: 15-18). That is to say this policy was oriented to two aspects mentioned in the previous section: to guarantee a minimum level of income (although focalized) and to incorporate program beneficiaries to the labor market. However, the second aspect was not effectively achieved due to a lack of appropriate municipal infrastructure.