San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Latin America poverty levels lowest in 3 decades

SANTIAGO, Chile – Poverty in Latin America decreased more slowly in 2012, with one million fewer Latin Americans living in poverty than in 2011, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA).

Poverty affects some 167 million Latin Americans, mostly women and children, or some 28.8 percent of all residents in the region, ECLA said.

“Current poverty figures are the lowest we’ve seen in the past three decades, which is good news for the region. But we still face unacceptable [poverty] levels in many countries,” ECLA Secretary General Alicia Bárcena said.

While the numbers are encouraging, according to ECLA, the slowing pace of poverty reduction is cause for concern.

The year 2011 saw a reduction of 1.6 percent over 2010 in the number of Latin Americans affected by poverty, while the percentage of decrease this year over last was just 0.6 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people living in extreme poverty remained unchanged, totaling some 66 million people, the same as in 2011.

“As in years past, the increase in wage income in poor homes was the most significant factor in poverty reduction,” the report said.

Also mentioned was the “feminization of poverty,” which the report attributes to gender-based discrimination and segregation, lower salaries and fewer job opportunities in the formal labor sector, Bárcena said.

Poverty also affects more than half of minors under 17, which is primarily linked to teen pregnancy “mostly in poor households,” Bárcena added.

Paraguay, with 49.6 percent of its population living in poverty, is the most striking example. Next are the Dominican Republic (42.2 percent), Colombia (34.2 percent), Ecuador (32.4 percent) and Venezuela (29.5 percent).

Paraguay also tops the list of countries whose residents live in extreme poverty (28 percent), followed again by the Dominican Republic (20.3 percent), Panama (12.4 percent), Venezuela (11.7 percent) and Colombia (10.7 percent).

Argentina is the Latin American country with the lowest poverty level (5.7 percent), followed by Uruguay (6.7 percent) and Chile (11 percent).

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