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Mendigo pide limosna en el andén. Imagen para ilustrar nota de pobreza extrema en América Latina y el Caribe
The pandemic has also notably increased inequality. Photo: Pixabay.

Extreme poverty in Latin America: A 27-year setback for the region

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) shared its report on poverty for 2021, and the results are not encouraging.

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Although the general poverty rate among the population decreased 0.9%, going from 33.0% to 32.1%, the social crisis in Central and South America has continued to hit lower classes hardest, especially the already weakened media class, whose vulnerability has been especially evident during this health emergency.

The pandemic, which recently began its third year hitting the Latin American and Caribbean region hard, “has become a social crisis, taking the rate of extreme poverty in Latin America from 13.1% of the population in 2020 to 13. Eight percent in 2021, a setback of 27 years,” said ECLAC.

What these percentages represent is the growth from 81 million people living in extreme poverty to 86 million. That is, 5 million more human beings who do not have the basic conditions necessary to survive.

"The increase in extreme poverty is a consequence of a reduction in emergency income transfers in some countries, which would not be able to be compensated by the expected increase in income from employment," reads one of the sections of the report from ECLAC.

The Commission revealed that during 2020, after the start of the pandemic, extreme poverty in the region was at levels recorded 27 years ago, with the most affected populations being women, communities in rural areas, Indigenous peoples and children.

For its part, inequality, which has also grown dramatically, has been driven by an economic reactivation that only satisfies a small group, and is not enough “to mitigate the profound social and labor effects of the pandemic, closely linked to income and gender inequality, poverty, informality and the vulnerability in which the population lives,” the report states.

The ECLAC document also points out that “inequality increased between 2019 and 2020, breaking a downward trend that had been observed since 2002. The Gini Coefficient — used internationally to measure income distribution — increased by 0, 7 percentage points for the regional average between 2019 and 2020.” 

With these figures, it is clear that deterioration is a direct result of the pandemic.

niños viviendo en la pobreza

In addition to reporting the figures on extreme poverty, the report also points out that an economic recovery can only occur if the health emergency, which has made this region the most vulnerable in the world to its effects, is controlled.

Taking Jan. 26, 2022 as the cutoff, a record of 62.3% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean must be fully vaccinated, and ECLAC invites increased efforts so that the 70% of the population is inoculated in the region by mid-2022.

“The pandemic is a historic opportunity to build a new social pact that provides protection, certainty and trust. A new social contract must advance and strengthen the institutionality of social protection systems and promote their universal, comprehensive, sustainable and resilient systems. Years of lower economic growth are coming and, if efforts are not maintained to protect the well-being of the population, the increases in poverty and inequality in the region will be greater,” highlights the report.

The document ends by emphasizing the transition towards what the Commission calls a society of care.

"Universality, inter-institutional and inter-sectoral coordination, co-responsibility and financial sustainability are fundamental pillars of the comprehensive care policies that the region needs," underlined the organization in a statement.

Read the full text here.

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