This is not the first time Argentina has faced an upsurge of inflation hitting pockets and the purchasing-power of wages. But it is perhaps the first time that a period of accelerating inflation is accompanied by the worrying phenomenon facing many wage-earners, including the formally employed: becoming impoverished.
According to the latest report by the INDEC national statistics bureau, in order not to fall below the poverty line and cover its most basic expenses, a four-person household needs an income of at least 248,962 pesos.
In a series of interviews, Argentines struggling to reach the end of the month give a face to the problems facing so many of us. What follows below is testimony from young people who study and work but find it increasingly hard to rent a flat or live alone, a typical family and two retired people whose minimum pensions do not even cover a third of their expenses. Selling property, cutting back on insurance and purchases are among the most common strategies for dealing with the problem of living with an inflation rate exceeding 110 percent over the last 12 months.
Milagros Belén Peralta, 24, studies and works. “Moving out and living alone is not in my plans because I know that to be an impossibility. The rent does not come out of my salary because I’m working and my family continues to pay it [the rent]. I used to live with my sister but she moved to Portugal. The expenses are no longer shared and you feel the difference.”
Younger people also have to lower their costs due to inflation.
“I’ve stopped buying things like clothing and also things which are neither healthy nor cheap, like soft drinks,” affirmed Peralta. At least her student passes permit her to save somewhere “because the fare [to and from work] costs 200 pesos. Besides, I’m trying to find a psychologist covered by the prepaid healthcare scheme because it’s very expensive and I cannot afford it.”
Germán Guerrero Márquez, 29, recently found a flat.
“I’m paying 100,000 pesos in rent with expenses taking it up to a total sum of 136,000 pesos.” Faced with needing two months rent and falling into debt to move in, “I had to shed my assets, like my old motorcycle, just in order to pay moving in. Furthermore, very few apartments are offered in pesos with most of them demanding US$250 to US$350 monthly.”
In order to meet expenses, he relates: “I do not go out nor buy clothing or shoes. I spend the rest of the money left on food, after paying rent and taxes, and if I want some luxury, I use credit cards and pay in instalments not topping 20,000 pesos a month.
Santiago Ascheri, 48, lives with his two children, aged 22 and 16.
“Along general lines, to combat inflation, we avoid ordering food outside the home], buying less in corner stores and more in supermarkets, which are cheaper and where you can take advantage of discounts. We also watch prices very carefully and we no longer buy more products than needed ‘just in case,’ as we did before, clothing has also been converted into a luxury – now we only buy things when urgently needed so buying just in case no longer exists, you manage with the basic. Another thing on which we have started to save is car insurance, now we just have the indispensable minimum legal requirement.”
César Valerio Bertolot, 74, is a pensioner and lives with his wife, also a pensioner.
“We no longer buy beef, nowadays we eat pork. The products we buy are all going up in price, our bonus is already devalued. The good thing was the credit for pensioners which we took advantage of to buy a washing machine while cancelling some previous credits,” César said. “We sold a vehicle to save on petrol, insurance and licences. We just have one mobile telephone, having dumped the landline. We only switch on the light when needed and to try to save on gas, we wrap up to spend as little as possible on heating. At least PAMI [state health service for the retired] pays our medicine and travel expenses for medical consultations and studies 100 percent.”
Graciela Diez, 62, is a widowered pensioner.
“The truth is that going out to shop is a torture with everything expensive and going up in price. The money does not cover anything. You go and buy sugar and it costs 1,000 pesos a packet, the prices are sky-high. I have dogs and I have to buy pet food, which is insane. Before I bought big 20-kilo packages, now I have to try and save on pet food, buying cheaper stuff. With what I earn, it cannot be done.”
According to the Defensoría de la Tercera Edad ombudsman’s office for the retired, the shopping-basket of a pensioner already topped 202,000 pesos back in April while with the bonus paid in September, a minimum pension will be 124,000 pesos.