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ECONOMY | 04-06-2024 16:33

Poverty climbed to 55.5% in first quarter, according to UCA

Data obtained in new study highlights chilling growth in poverty levels – nearly 25 million people in urban areas nationwide are now considered to be poor.

More than half of Argentines now live in poverty, according to an expert body that tracks the measure.

The latest report from the influential Observatorio de la Deuda Social of the Universidad Católica Argentina (Social Debt Observatory of the Catholic University of Argentina, ODSA-UCA) put poverty at 55.5 percent for the first quarter of this year – up from 44.7 in the third quarter of 2023 and 49.5 percent in December, when President Javier Milei was sworn into office.

Some 17.5 percent of the country's 46 million people were considered destitute, according to the figures – nearly double the rate in the third quarter of last year.

The figures show that the number of poor in Argentina has risen consistently from a year ago, with the rate now quickening. Extended out to the total population, poverty affects some 25 million people nationwide.

The poverty level in Argentina is officially defined as a monthly income of less than the US$292 required to buy a basic basket of consumer goods for an adult, or US$904 for a family with two children.

An adult making less than US$132 is considered to live in extreme poverty, or destitution.

The minimum wage in Argentina is 234,315 pesos (about US$250 at the official exchange rate), an economy with almost 50 percent informal employment.

Purchasing power has deteriorated since Milei took office and devalued the currency, while the costs of essential services increased by more than 300 percent on average in the last quarter thanks to the widespread deregulation of utility costs and a massive reduction of subsidies. 

“Total food insecurity for the urban areas surveyed by the ODSA-UCA reaches 24.7 percent of the people, 20.8 percent of households and 32.2 percent of children and teenagers. On the other hand, 10.9 percent of people, 8.8 percent of households and 13.9 percent of children and teenagers are in an even more serious situation, facing severe food insecurity,” stressed the report.

“When considering the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, total food insecurity applies to 26.4 percent of people, 21.8 percent of homes and 35 percent of children and teenagers. As for severe food insecurity, the values are 9.9 percent, 12.7 percent and 16.5 percent respectively,” it added.

 

Higher than official

The new figures are worse than recent data from the INDEC national statistics bureau, which put the poverty rate at 41.7 percent at the end of 2023. That was up from 39.2 percent a year earlier.

According to government data, poverty peaked in 2002 65.5 percent and mostly fell until it reached 25.7 percent in 2017. Since then, the figure has grown.

INDEC releases poverty data only twice a year, and its latest report dates back to the period before President Milei's sharp devaluation of the peso mid-December and the rapid inflation that followed.

Unlike the UCA body, which measures poverty multi-dimensionally to include access to essential services, INDEC estimates it solely on the basis of income.

All economic indicators are pointing to a crushing impact on the population of Milei's austerity measures, with falling employment and consumer rates on top of annual inflation exceeding 200 percent.

In March, UNICEF said the extreme poverty rate among children in Argentina likely reached one in five by the end of 2023.

Highlighting the knock-on impact on education, the UCA report said that 23 percent of children aged three to five do not attend formal educational institutions and that 35.3 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 had dropped out of school before completing their studies.

The UCA report highlighted that 42.6 percent of children and teenagers now live in homes that receive a basic child allowance payment and access the Tarjeta Alimentar food stamp programme. 

Milei's government, meanwhile, has frozen the distribution of thousands of tons of food aid for months pending an audit of soup kitchens.

Last month, a court ordered the food to be released "immediately" and – despite an appeal from the government – an emergency distribution drive was organised this week, with the help of the military. 

Only soon-to-expire foodstuffs will be shared, however, with the rest kept for “possible catastrophes,” said Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni.

The UCA report was published just a week after the Argentine Synod called on the government to redistribute stockpiled food and grant aid to community soup kitchens. 


– TIMES/AFP/NA

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