Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Jesica Torres


Jesica Torres
Economist, Office of the Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, World Bank

Jesica Torres is an economist in the Office of the Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa of the World Bank. Her analytical work has focused on understanding how special provisions such as size-dependent regulations, simplified tax regimes, or preferential labor regulations distort both the selection into entrepreneurship and the behavior of firms, and how that ultimately affects the allocation of resources in the economy. More recently, she has studied the determinants of the entry of high-growth firms and has led or co-authored numerous reports analyzing the effect of the pandemic on the private sector using the COVID-19 Business Pulse Surveys. Before joining the World Bank in 2019, she worked as a Visiting Scholar in the Inter-American Development Bank, as an economic advisor in the Mexican federal government, and as a research-professor at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico. She received her PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Content by this Author

Balancing act: jobs and wages in MENA when crises hit

What has been the human toll of the dizzying sequence of global macroeconomic shocks since 2020 for the Middle East and North Africa in terms of lost jobs and deteriorating livelihoods? A recent World Bank report highlights the additional 5.1 million people who have become unemployed, and explores the potential for them to be permanently scarred by the experience. As this column explains, there is a critical trade-off in labour markets between jobs losses and falls in real incomes, neither of which is desirable. The authors advocate maintaining real wage flexibility and supporting the most vulnerable via targeted cash transfers.

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Labour market effects of robots: evidence from Turkey

Evidence from developed countries on the impact of automation on labour markets suggests that there can be negative effects on manufacturing jobs, but also mechanisms for workers to move into the services sector. But this narrative may not apply in developing economies. This column reports new evidence from Turkey on the effects of robots on labour displacement and job reallocation.

Global value chains and domestic innovation: evidence from MENA firms

Global interlinkages play a significant role in enhancing innovation by firms in developing countries. In particular, as this column explains, participation in global value chains fosters a variety of innovation activities. Since some countries in the Middle East and North Africa display a downward trend on measures of global innovation, facilitating the GVC participation of firms in the region is a prospective channel for stimulating underperforming innovation.

Food insecurity in Tunisia during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Labour market instability, rising unemployment rates and soaring food prices due to Covid-19 are among the reasons for severe food insecurity across the world. This grim picture is evident in Tunisia, where the government continues to provide financial and food aid to vulnerable households after the pandemic. But as this column explains, the inadequacy of some public policies is another important factors causing food insecurity.

Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Intimate partner violence: the impact on women’s empowerment in Egypt

Although intimate partner violence is a well-documented and widely recognised problem, empirical research on its prevalence and impact is scarce in developing countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa. This column reports evidence from a study of intra-household disparities in Egypt, taking account of attitudes toward gender roles, women’s ownership of assets, and the domestic violence that wives may experience from their husbands.

Manufacturing firms in Egypt: trade participation and outcomes for workers

International trade can play a large and positive role in boosting economic growth, reducing poverty and making progress towards gender equality. These effects result in part from the extent to which trade is associated with favourable labour market outcomes. This column presents evidence of the effects of Egyptian manufacturing firms’ participation in exporting and importing on their workers’ productivity and average wages, and on women’s employment share.

Do capital inflows cause industrialisation or de-industrialisation?

There is a clear appeal for emerging and developing economies, including those in MENA, to finance investment in manufacturing industry at home with capital inflows from overseas. But as the evidence reported in this column indicates, this is a potentially risky strategy: rather than promoting industrialisation, capital flows can actually lead to lower manufacturing value added and/or a reallocation of resources towards industries with lower technology intensity.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.