Poverty in South America

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Poverty in South America is high. All of the countries in South America are greatly affected by poverty to some extent. From 1999 to 2010, poverty dropped from 43.8% to 31.8%.[1] The countries that have the highest rates are Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.[2] All of these countries are trying to reduce poverty, with varying degrees of effort and success. However, in recent years most South American countries have experienced great economic growth. Thanks to this improvement in the economy, action is being taken by most South American countries to reduce poverty and improve the life quality of the people. New infrastructure is being built and more housing is being provided. Education is also a major concern, and the governments are spending millions of dollars in funding schools.

There are many different reasons why a greater proportion of a country's population may be in poverty than in others, and there are a variety of factors that may explain poverty in South America. Each country has their own internal problems, which leads to their high percentage of poverty, and an overview of poverty in each of these countries in South America (except Chile) follows in the section below.

Conditions by nation[edit]


The relatively low poverty rate is shared with the country's neighbors to the west and east, Chile and Uruguay; but contrasts with most of Argentina's northern neighbors (Bolivia and Paraguay), and has resulted in a wave of immigration from these latter to Argentina since the 1960s, mainly to Buenos Aires and its environs.[3] Poverty rates, measured by Argentine parameters, are higher than those reported by the UN, however. "Structural poverty", based on substandard housing, affected 17.7% of the population at the 2001 Census.[4] Income poverty is also higher, and unlike structural poverty (which has gradually declined over the decades), has varied sharply between Argentina's economic cycles. This proportion rose sharply, for instance, during the 1989 currency crisis (from 26% to 47%), while the early success of the Convertibility Plan cut the rate to 16% by 1994; income poverty rose again in the ensuing years, to 35% by 2001, and reached 54% during the depths of the crisis in 2002.[5]

The incidence of income poverty declined markedly during the subsequent economic recovery, and by the end of 2009 reached 9.0% of households and 13.2% of the population.[6] Income poverty, in the first half of 2010, officially included adults living with a monthly disposable income of around 370 Argentine pesos (US$95) per person, and children for whom monthly expenditures are no more than around 200 pesos (US$51) each; a family of two adults and two children were considered poor in early 2010 if their monthly family expenditures were less than around 1,140 pesos (US$292).[6]

Critics of the official INDEC survey charge that both the inflation rate used to measure poverty and the official baseline household budgets themselves are understated, however. The official income poverty line increased 150% between 2001 and early 2010; but most private surveys of household conditions in Argentina estimate it at half again as much as the official threshold,[7] and the effective poverty rate at around 25% of the population.[8][9] Absolute poverty estimates, as measured by the inability to meet a minimum nutritional budget, also differ: this condition includes 3.5% of the population officially, and around 10% per private estimates.[8]

Poverty in Argentina varies widely according to region, and provinces in the north have historically shouldered the nation's highest poverty rates. Estimates of income poverty in this region ranged from around 20% officially,[6] to over 40% in private estimates;[9] substandard living conditions affected around 30% of this region's population in the 2001 Census.[4] The city of Buenos Aires proper, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego Provinces typically benefit from the nation's lowest poverty rates (around 7 to 14%, depending on the measurement).[4][9] Buenos Aires, in particular, has been increasingly blighted by shantytowns, however, as it continues to be a magnet for the impoverished from both northern Argentina and neighboring countries to the north.[10]

The majority of Argentina's public social programs, aside from those related to health, are administered by the National Social Security Administration (ANSES). Argentines in the labor force earning less than 4,800 pesos (US$1,230) monthly, are entitled to benefits upon marriage, birth or adoption of a child, for maternity leave or prenatal care, and for a disability in a child, as well as to a modest unemployment insurance benefit for up to 6 months.[11] The most important poverty relief program administered by the ANSES is the Universal Childhood Entitlement. The benefit, of 180 pesos (US$46) a month per child, is assigned to 3.7 million children under age 18 (30% of the nation's total), and includes the deposit of 20% of the check in a savings account accessible only upon certification of the child's enrollment in school.[12]

The health needs of the poor in Argentina (and of a sizable proportion of the working class) is attended to by the public hospital system, which received funding of around US$8 billion in 2009, and whose quality of care typically falls short of the systems relied on by the nation's middle and upper classes (health cooperatives and private health insurance); health care for poor (and most non-poor) senior citizens is overseen by PAMI.[13] The National Housing Fund (FONAVI) and its successors, the Provincial Housing Institutes, have also benefited the poor by facilitating access to affordable housing,[14] and since 1976, has completed over a million housing units.[15] The socio-economic crisis at the time prompted the enactment of the Program for Unemployed Heads of Households in early 2002, and at its height in 2003, around 2 million beneficiaries received debit cards worth 150 pesos (US$50) for part-time work;[16] by 2010, the plan's impact on employment had become negligible.[17]

Birth control among the poor, especially access to contraceptives, has long been discouraged by a succession of Argentine governments, as well as by figures in the influential Roman Catholic Church.[18] Government policy instead rewards large families with subsidies that rise disproportionately with the seventh child,[19] and though Argentine women have long had among Latin America's lowest birth rates (averaging 2.3 births per woman in recent years), the policy has tended to encourage higher birth rates in the lowest strata of society (including women least able to afford large families).[19]


Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which published an in depth report in December 2009, the latest poverty data available is from 2007. It shows that 60.1% of the population live in poverty and 37.7% in extreme poverty. 80.2% have access to electricity, 86% have access to running water, and only 50.8% have sewage system connections.[20]

The socialist government of Evo Morales, which came to power in 2005, has introduced a number of measures to combat poverty.

The Bono Juancito Pinto gives school children grants of approximately US$29 (200 bolivianos) a year as an incentive to continue education to the 6th grade of primary school. It was introduced in 2006.

The Renta Dignidad was introduced in 2008 to prevent extreme poverty amongst the elderly. It gives all citizens over 60 a grant of US$258 (1800 bolivianos) or $344 (2400 bolivianos) to those not receiving social security payments.

The Bono Juana Azurduy provides new mothers with small financial incentives to seek pre and post natal medical care with the aim of reducing child mortality rates. It began in May 2009.

The above measures, along with increased provision of health and education services, are expected to result in reduced poverty rates for 2008 onwards.


Main article: Poverty in Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America, and is also known to have a high poverty rate. Poverty in Brazil is more focused in the north-eastern region of the country: 60% of poor people live there, and the majority of them are of Afro-Brazilian heritage.[21] Over 40 million Brazilians live on less than $2 a day, and about 20 million are making less than $1 a day.[22] This is due to low government funding for poverty relief programs, and problems of income distribution; Brazil has one of the most unequal distributions of income in the world.


Main article: Poverty in Colombia

Despite Colombia having the 4th largest economy in Latin America, tourism booms, consistent GDP growth, Colombia continues to have mid-high levels of rural poverty.[23] In recent years, the government has instituted new micro-economic regulations that have led to poverty reduction by increasing and supporting new opportunities to improve the lives of rural populations. Their poverty reduction strategy focuses on three components a) rural development, b) social and infrastructural services and c)decentralization.[24] This country feels that if they put their main focus on these particular issues it has a good chance at dramatically reducing its rural- area poverty.[25]


This country benefited from an oil boom during the 1970s, and despite this, 21% of the population still lives in poverty, and another 12% is vulnerable to it. One million out of its 13 million inhabitants can not meet the proper standards of living.[26] This country has a high rural poverty. However its malnutrition rate is relatively low, and Health care is provided by the state so it prevents from causing high child mortality rates.


23.8% of the population is below the poverty line[27] and 4% is very poor, per national surveys;[citation needed] the proportion of Paraguayans living in absolute poverty was 10.3%, as measured in the UN Human Development Index.[28] The problems associated with poverty that this country deals with is migration, language and that there is no standard welfare system. Water and sanitation conditions are also inefficient in rural areas, where the majority of the poor population is concentrated, which leads to the poor getting sick from the unsanitary way of living.[29]


From 2000 to 2010, Peru's poverty rates dropped from 54.7% to 31.3%.[1] The country's total poverty is 25.8%.[30]

According to the World Bank, Peru has recently made great advances in development. It has been successful with "high growth rates, low inflation, macroeconomic stability, reduction of external debt and poverty and significant advances in social and development indicators". However, 1.4% of Peru's urban population lives below the poverty line, while the rural population sits at 19.7%. Reductions of inequality have occurred in Peru, but inequality is still high, with a GINI Index of 0.45.[31]

This country suffers from low income jobs, poor teaching skills in the rural areas, no full benefits for the primary health care and chronic problems that the country has. The poor people are at greater risks for health illness because of the rural area that they live in due to the lack of clean water and sanitation.[32]

The population has grown, and this is causing more poverty because the country's cities are becoming over crowded. Over the last few years Peru is showing a little improvement with the social welfare system and the consumption poverty rates. The social welfare system is reaching more out to the poor because the government is receiving more funding.[33] The consumption poverty rates are slightly lower from 19% to 15%, but there are still millions of Peruvians suffering from severe poverty.[34]


By 2013, 11.5% of the population remains under the poverty line.[35]

Income poverty in Uruguay, historically low by regional standards, had increased substantially during that country's struggle with chronic stagflation from the 1960s until the mid-1980s; from 1986 to 1999, however, income poverty declined sharply, from 46% to 15%.[36] Fallout from an earlier financial crisis in neighboring Argentina helped lead to a resurgence in poverty, to 27%, by 2006,[37] though by 2008, a reduction of the rate to around 24% was measured, while 2.2% of the population remained in absolute poverty; as in many other nations, the poor in Uruguay suffer from far higher rates of unemployment than the population at large (27%, compared to an average of 7.5%).[38] The rate of absolute poverty in Uruguay, measured as part of the UN Human Development Index, was 3.0% in 2009, and was the lowest in Latin America.[28]


Despite the country being rich in natural resources, Venezuela has historically suffered from high poverty rates. Recent income statistics show that the total poverty rate in the country stands at 31.9%. Of this group, 23.3% corresponds to relative poverty and 8.6% corresponds to absolute poverty.[39]

It is worth mentioning that the above statistics measure only cash income and therefore does not include access to free health care and other basic services. The government of Venezuela has attempted to measure the rate of households unable to cover their basic necessities through income or government services. The figure for this group stands at 21.2% poverty, of which 14.5% is considered non-extreme and 6.7% considered extreme.[40]


  1. ^ a b Keppel, Stephen (17 January 2014). "5 Ways Hugo Chavez Has Destroyed the Venezuelan Economy". Fusion (TV channel). Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line (% of population)". The World Bank. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  3. ^ Página/12: Applications for Argentine Citizenship by national origin, 2000 to 2008.
  4. ^ a b c INDEC: Population with unsatisfied basic needs
  5. ^ INDEC: Poverty
  6. ^ a b c INDEC: Poverty line and baseline household budgets
  7. ^ Clarín: La línea de pobreza del INDEC, cada vez más lejos de las mediciones privadas (Spanish)
  8. ^ a b La Nación: Estiman que la pobreza es casi el doble de la admitida por el Gobierno (Spanish)
  9. ^ a b c IADER: La pobreza en las provincias (Spanish)
  10. ^ Crítica de la Argentina: La favelización anunciada (Spanish)
  11. ^ ANSES (Spanish)
  12. ^ ANSES: Extensión de Plazos de Libreta (Spanish)
  13. ^ Clarín. Salud privada: obras sociales y medicina prepaga en Argentina (Spanish)
  14. ^ Argentina: Políticas Sociales, Vivieda y servicios (Spanish)
  15. ^ Subsecretaría de Desarollo Urbano y Vivienda (Spanish)
  16. ^ Ministerio de Desarollo Social: Tarjeta del Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hogar (Spanish)
  17. ^ INDEC: Encuesta Permanente de Hogares (May 21, 2010) (Spanish)
  18. ^ Argentina: Limits on Birth Control Threaten Human Rights
  19. ^ a b Clarín: La fábrica de hijos (Spanish)
  20. ^ CEPR
  21. ^ DFID
  22. ^ World Bank Country Assistance Strategy 2000
  23. ^ World Bank
  24. ^ World Bank Poverty Assessment Colombia
  25. ^ World Bank
  26. ^ World Bank Poverty Assessment: Ecuador.
  27. ^ https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pa.html
  28. ^ a b UNDP Human Development Report 2 009 Update. "Table 3: Human poverty index: developing countries" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-01-19.  line feed character in |author= at position 32 (help)
  29. ^ World Bank
  30. ^ "Data: Peru". The World Bank. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  31. ^ "Peru Overview". The World Bank. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  32. ^ World Bank Archived May 9, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ World Bank Poverty Assessment: Peru.
  34. ^ World Bank Archived May 9, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population)". World Bank. 2013. Retrieved 2014-12-28. 
  36. ^ INE Uruguay: Evolución de la pobreza por el método del ingreso (Spanish)
  37. ^ UNDP: Uruguay (Spanish)
  38. ^ INE Uruguay: Estimaciones de pobreza (2008) (Spanish)
  39. ^ INE Venezuela: Pobreza por línea de ingreso, 1er semestre 1997 - 2do semestre 2011 (Spanish)
  40. ^ NBI.xls INE Venezuela: Hogares en situación de pobreza por necesidades básicas insatisfechas, según condición de pobreza, 1eros semestres 1997-2011 (Spanish)