San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

More than 1.1 million Costa Ricans live in poverty

More than 1.1 million Costa Ricans live in poverty, according to the latest household survey from the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC), released Thursday.

Extreme poverty reached its highest recorded rate in the last six years, according to the annual report on poverty in Costa Rica.

The 2015 Household Survey reported an overall poverty rate of 21.7 percent, slightly lower than the 22.4 percent reported in 2014. Meanwhile, extreme poverty continues to rise — from 5.8 percent of the population in 2010 to 7.2 percent in 2015.

The report was a mixed bag for the country, depending on location. Income for rural families was up 4.1 percent, to an average of ₡678,682 ($1,285) per month, but urban families saw a 1.2 percent decrease in income, to ₡1,125,672 per month ($2,100). The GINI coefficient, which measures inequality, remained steady at 0,516 overall but rose in rural areas over the past year, indicating a wider income gap.

Public assistance to poor families also increased during the last year by 9.3 percent per household on average and 6.9 percent per person.

The report had some clear positive notes. Households in the Chorotega region — the area made up of Guanacaste province and the lower part of the Nicoya peninsula that belongs to Puntarenas — saw a nearly 22 percent jump in income over the previous year, to ₡830,707 per month or roughly $1,550. The rise in income was mirrored by a drop in poverty from 33.2 percent in 2104 to 27 percent in 2015.

Extreme poverty there fell from 12.1 percent in 2014 to 10.4 percent in 2015. INEC reported that improved employment indicators and a reduction in the average household size were contributors to the spike in income.

INEC also released a profile of Costa Rica’s poor. Poor Costa Ricans are more likely to live in a single-mother household and have a higher-than-average number of children under 5 years old and dependents (children under 14 years old or adults over 65 years old living in the same home). More than 77 percent of poor Costa Ricans work in the informal sector and have roughly three years less schooling than their peers who are not poor.

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Ken Morris

Zach: A little more care in reporting the numbers might be in order. The difficulty, as usual, is not the numbers, but the words attached to them.

I start by wondering about your use of the term “Costa Ricans.” My guess is that a good chunk of the poor are Nicaraguans, and while these might be considered Costa Ricans depending upon how you define them, I would like this clarified. One reason poverty is so stubborn in Costa Rica is that the country continually receives a new influx of foreign poor. My guess is that the poverty rate isn’t of Costa Ricans, but of people living in Costa Rica.

I would also like the term “average” to be clarified as either the mean or the median. This makes a huge difference. You get mean incomes by simply dividing all the money by the number of cases, but you get the median by identifying the midpoint income. Most analyses of income distributions use medians, since means can be very misleading. They can be because a few very high income cases bring the average up for everybody. If you have 10 cases and 9 have incomes of $5,000 a year while one has an income of $155,000, the mean makes it appear that the average income is $20,000. But this is misleading since actually 90% of the cases have incomes of $5000. Stating the income average as the median would put it at $5000.

This goes I think to Rusty’s concern. I seriously doubt that the median or typical income of urban families is $2100 a month. it’s lower. However, this might be the mean, since a few families have very high incomes.

Last, the term “family” should I think be clarified. You may actually mean the term “family,” but even if you do, I’d like to know how that term is defined. The usual term used in analyses like these though is “household” rather than “family,” and these are often different. Roommates, single people, and multiple nuclear families sharing the same residence are households.

My total guess is that the $2100 a month average family income in urban areas is really the mean income for households in those areas, and to wing it I’d guess that the median family income in those areas is considerably lower.

However, I have to guess, and this is my reservation about the article. I’m just not convinced that the correct terms were used.

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“…families was up 4.1 percent, to an average of ₡678,682 ($1,285) per month..” I don’t know very many here in San Jose that make even close to this amount. A lady I know makes 325,000 colons a month working 6 days a week at a local bread/mini super store. So Maybe $600.00 a month. And no husband. Lives in apt. pays $225.00 a month plus utilities , and supports her son in high school. What is flawed about this for me is many work for the minimum here and can barely scrape by… I Think the 1.1 million living poverty is a low figure. I think it’s double this or half the country. As we know some make a lot in like government jobs that raise this average. Sad to see some many hurting and scared they have no means to support their families as the jobs here disappear.

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