Elderly Care in Costa RicaCosta Rica is a Latin American country renowned for its stunning beaches, delicious coffee and idyllic weather. It also has an aging population and is a world leader in elderly care. In 2020, 9% of Costa Ricans were above the age of 60. According to projections, this number could rise to over 20% by 2050, transforming Costa Rica into a super-aged society. Read on to discover how the provision of elderly care in Costa Rica is paving the way for a brighter future.

After the 1948 Costa Rican civil war, as the world balked at the horrors of the Second World War and grappled with human rights, the Costa Rican government made a bold decision. It abolished its military and, instead, began establishing an inclusive and comprehensive social welfare program. Today, 96% of the population is covered by the government’s universal health care, including nearly all older adults. 

While 17% of older adults are impoverished, Costa Rica is one of the few Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states where people aged 65 and above are less likely to face poverty compared to the average citizen. Moreover, Costa Rica boasts one of the smallest gender disparities in old-age poverty rates within the OECD

Supporting Costa Rica’s Elderly: A Three-Pronged Approach

Elderly individuals in Costa Rica receive support from three main sources: their families, nonprofit organizations and the state. Together, these systems form a safety net that makes elderly care in Costa Rica uniquely dignified and effective. 

Older adults’ families are their primary caregivers, with 85% of people above the age of 65 living with two or more other people in 2017. This reflects the cultural norms of inter-generational households and familial support. However, the American Association of Retired Persons reports that the rate of elderly Costa Ricans living alone increased by 36% between 2011 and 2017. This suggests that there could be a need for nonprofit and government programs to expand to sustain the country’s older adult population. 

Ongoing Efforts

The Yamuni Tabush Foundation, for example, has been promoting healthy aging in Costa Rica since its founding in 2013. A partner of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the foundation played a crucial role in securing protective medical supplies for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation also trained community health workers in high-risk areas and staff working in elderly residences, protecting vulnerable aged populations when they needed it most. 

Legislative support has also shaped the landscape of elderly care in Costa Rica, guided by the values of human rights and equality. In 1999, the government passed the Comprehensive Law for Older Adults, the first piece of national legislation specifically aiming to improve older adults’ quality of life. Demonstrating its support for this vulnerable group, Costa Rica ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Adults in 2016. In 2020, the country criminalized the abandonment of older adults on the grounds that it infringed upon their human rights. The government also showed its commitment to older adults when, in 2015, it increased funding to the National Council for Older Adults (CONAPAM) and its associated care network, Red Cuido. 

CONAPAM partners with community homes, daycare centers and churches to aid exceptionally vulnerable or impoverished older adults. This government program impacts more than 15,000 people annually and has played a significant role in the implementation of The First National Alzheimer Plan of Costa Rica. This plan, the first of its kind in a low or middle-income country, focuses on improving the quality of life of dementia patients, who make up some 10.7 per 1,000 Costa Ricans. 

Looking Forward

The quality of life of older Costa Ricans is not all perfect. Only 22% of the elderly population have been able to find employment, out of which 70% are working in the informal sector. The situation worsens as 43% of older adults have reported experiencing violent encounters, and almost 10% have faced age-based discrimination.

Nonetheless, Costa Rica has robust support structures within families and the nonprofit and government sectors. For decades, elderly care in Costa Rica has led both Latin America and the world in protecting the rights and dignity of older adults. As its older population continues to grow, its next steps may pave the way for a brighter future for older adults both inside and outside its sunny borders.

– Faye Crawford
Photo: Flickr

Diabetes in Costa Rica’s Elderly PopulationDespite efforts to combat diabetes in Costa Rica’s elderly population, the disease continues to be an ongoing health problem for the Latin American island nation. More than one-fifth of Costa Rica’s elderly population lives with diabetes, and the elderly population is particularly vulnerable to contracting chronic illness. This figure is higher than Costa Rica’s overall prevalence rate of diabetes, which is approximately 9%. And as the population continues to age rapidly, the prevalence of diabetes among the elderly in Costa Rica could also rise.

Prevalence of Diabetes in Costa Rica’s Elderly Population

Diabetes is a chronic illness affecting people of all ages but particularly afflicts those aged 65 and older. Aging, poor diet, physical inactivity and genetic predisposition are all factors that put the elderly at greater risk of contracting diabetes. One factor contributing to this is the impairment of pancreatic islets, responsible for and aiding in insulin production, which occurs with aging.

With elderly people at particularly high risk of contracting diabetes, another factor worrying health experts is Costa Rica’s rapidly aging population. The American Association for Retired Persons outlines United Nations statistics for Costa Rica’s elderly population, which currently represents 11.6% of the nation’s population. Costa Rica’s elderly population has increased by approximately 0.3% each year since 2001. Forecasts suggest the number of elderly Costa Rican could be 1.37 million people by 2050 — triple what it is in 2023.

Impact on Costa Rica’s Health Care Infrastructure

Unlike some of its neighboring nations, Costa Rica’s health care infrastructure is relatively stable. A 2000 survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Costa Rican health care infrastructure as No. 36 in the world, surpassing the United States (U.S.).

Hospitals and clinics that provide quality care and treatment options for patients, including elderly Costa Ricans living with diabetes, are readily available. However, a major obstacle facing some patients is cost. Research finds that health care costs for elderly people living with diabetes are anticipated to fuel rising overall costs. In some cases, patients live undiagnosed or refuse to adhere to their treatment plan, further exacerbating their condition.

Treatment and Assistance Available to Patients

Costa Rica’s national health care system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), commonly known as “CAJA,” provides health coverage to all Costa Ricans, including diabetic patients. Through the system, elderly citizens living with diabetes can receive medication and supplies to effectively manage their condition. The Costa Rican Ministry of Health also provides resources and supplies, as well as education, to patients.

The Costa Rican health care infrastructure provides quality, effective care to its patients, including elderly diabetics. Though diabetes among Costa Rica’s elderly continues to be a health concern for some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, the quality health care infrastructure puts the nation in a good position to care for patients.

– Nicholas DeLuca
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health in Costa RicaThe connection between poverty and mental health in Costa Rica perpetuates hardship for individuals. Mental, neurological, substance-use disorders and suicide cause 22% of all disability and 35% of all years lived with disability in Costa Rica. These trends necessitate the need to investigate the ways in which impoverished people’s mental health is affected in Costa Rica and to provide suggestions for resolving these issues.

Mental Health in Costa Rica

  1. Limited Access to Mental Health Services: Individuals living in poverty in Costa Rica meet a gross degree of obstruction in endeavoring to access mental health care. The World Health Organization reports that there is a critical lack of psychiatrists and psychologists in rural Costa Rica. Inadequate access to mental health care derails existing mental health problems. It discourages or disallows people from getting the help they need. This highlights the need for the government of Costa Rica to prioritize access to mental health care, especially in rural and remote communities. Telemedicine projects, upgrades to existing facilities and the recruitment of more mental health specialists represent potential necessary steps in this direction.
  2. Social Stigma and Discrimination: Mental health-related stigma and prejudice are pervasive in Costa Rican culture. Because of the country’s economic condition, people living in poverty frequently experience added stigma, and this leads to increasingly isolated conditions and a lack of necessary social support. People’s mental health problems stay unchecked and untreated because of this stigma. On the bright side, community-based organizations and support groups provide welcoming environments free from criticism where people can safely share their stories and receive help. A government-led initiative in Costa Rica, under the direction of the PAHO/WHO national office, promoted primary health care (PHC)-led, universally accessible recovery program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhancing mental well-being, combating gender-based violence and providing comprehensive support for individuals with chronic health conditions are three key areas identified for targeted intervention through PHC, with a particular emphasis on underserved communities. This helped to alleviate social stigma towards mental illness and showed the government’s interest in reducing the burden of social stigma on those facing mental health difficulties.
  3. Financial Strain and Anxiety: People in Costa Rica who are already struggling financially experience a greater degree of stress and anxiety. Several factors counterbalanced the benefits of economic growth over the past decade. Income generation opportunities for less-educated workers eroded in virtually all sectors, population aging led to an increasing dependency ratio in many households and labor force participation rates of women continued to be among the lowest in Costa Rica. The contribution of labor to household income declined, especially in the poorest quintile, from over 70% in 2010 to about 55% in 2021, indicating a dramatic change. Inadequate housing, a lack of financial stability and restricted access to quality education and medical treatment all play a role in perpetuating the cycle of mental decay in Costa Rica. When adequate resources are afforded to expand access to high-quality education, health care and work, financial stress and anxiety may be alleviated among those living in poverty. Countries such as Canada are providing financial support to countries that need help in the creation of community-based organizations. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) aids Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. It financially supports impactful, small-scale projects aligned with Global Affairs Canada’s priority areas. CFLI focuses on directing funding to local civil society organizations, NGOs and institutions, fostering human rights and inclusivity in communities.
  4. Lack of Social Support: Various socioeconomic variables contribute to the fact that people living in poverty often lack a solid support system. Fewer social connections means more isolation, pessimism and the possibility of mental health issues. Those in need of emotional support and direction may find it via community-based support networks, including mentoring programs, support groups and peer counseling. Establishing and sustaining these kinds of support networks requires close cooperation between government agencies, nonprofit groups and community leaders. A nationally accredited nonprofit group that has served a remote town in Costa Rica since 2005 has brought social support to underprivileged citizens in that area. CEPIA empowers underprivileged children, teens, families and adults in Guanacaste’s coastal communities through culture, education, employment, health and social cohesion programs. In addition, in 2015, President Luis Guillermo Solís initiated a poverty-reduction plan. It aimed to uplift 54,600 families from extreme poverty through various forms of assistance such as housing, food subsidies, health insurance, pensions, training and scholarships.
  5. Abuse of Substances: Poverty and drug abuse exacerbate the country’s already severe mental health crisis. Unfortunately, substance abuse may be both a cause and effect of economic hardship. It perpetuates a cycle that has a negative impact on mental health. As a result, Costa Rica currently implements drug demand reduction policies covering health promotion, prevention, intervention, treatment, rehabilitation and social integration. These efforts, in line with the Hemispheric Plan of Action on Drugs, aim to minimize the negative health and social impacts of substance abuse through comprehensive and balanced approaches.

Responses and Ongoing Efforts

Prominent organizations in Costa Rica, like the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation (CRHF) and the International Federation of the Red Cross, drive positive change. The CRHF tackles social issues creatively and affordably, promoting friendship, aid and resources across cultures and socioeconomic classes. The Red Cross aids Costa Rica in responding to crises, building resilience and addressing pressing humanitarian concerns. These organizations work to combat social and economic hardship and to support the basic needs of Costa Ricans.

Concluding Thoughts

Limited access to mental health services, discrimination, financial strain, lack of social support and substance abuse have an impact on mental health in Costa Rica. Although the problems still exist, progress is being made throughout the nation to address the situation. The government of Costa Rica has limited funding in regard to its National Mental Health Plan. However, several government initiatives have shown a positive side to mental health in the nation. Through sustained investment and economic growth, poverty rates dropped significantly, from 32% in 1991 to 18% in 2003. Additionally, during the same time frame, extreme poverty dropped from 12% to 5%. Ultimately, while there is still room for work and progress, the positive trends so far continue to have a real impact on the lives of the people of Costa Rica, signaling a healthier future for all.

– Valentina Ornelas
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Costa RicaCosta Rica is a country in Central America with lots of wildlife and citizens that cherish living peacefully. Unfortunately, similar to many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted poverty in Costa Rica. The following are 10 more facts about poverty in Costa Rica.

10 Facts About the Poverty in Costa Rica

  1. Poverty rates in Costa Rica increased by about 6% between 2019 and 2020.
  2. Costa Rica has the lowest poverty rate in Central America.
  3. Costa Rica’s unemployment rate is between about 7% and 8%.
  4. The current percentage of those in poverty is about 20%.
  5. In June 2020, 419,783 homes were in poverty.
  6. In October 2021, about 23% of Costa Ricans were in poverty.
  7. The two regions in Costa Rica with the highest rates of poverty are the Brunca region and the Huetar Caribe region.
  8. COVID-19 pushed Costa Rica into a recession, resulting in an increase in poverty. Unemployment rates also increased, leaving about 15,500 Costa Ricans looking for jobs.
  9. The following factors are what have been impacting the poverty rates in Costa Rica: a growing population, declining income opportunities for less-educated workers and gender inequality, with only a small percentage of women in the workforce.
  10. In 2020, poverty rates were worse in urban areas compared to rural areas. This was due to the fact that many Costa Ricans in rural areas are farmers. Therefore, those in rural areas have more access to food.

Making Improvements

On the bright side, Costa Rica was able to reduce its poverty rates. In 2022, the poverty rate in Costa Rica was about 3.3%, and the World Bank estimates it could be at 2.7% by 2023. The World Bank and the Costa Rican government partnered up to create the Country Partnership Frameworks (CPFs) in order to strengthen Costa Rica’s fiscal sustainability and make its fiscal management more efficient.  Additionally, the organization has also stated that there are projects the Costa Rican government agreed with back in March 2020. Costa Rica has received help in terms of health, fiscal sustainability and policy responses through these projects.

One of these projects is the Sustainable Fisheries Development Project. The purpose of this project is to improve the management of fisheries resources in Costa Rica and invest in Costa Rica’s sustainable fisheries value chain. The project also aims to improve social and environmental sustainability in Costa Rica and improve the monitoring, communications and management of the Costa Rican Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture. Through such initiatives, the Costa Rican government was able to increase seafood products and, ultimately, increase food security and job opportunities in 2021.

Fiscal Management Improvement Project is another project that the World Bank has mentioned. It aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Costa Rica’s taxes and trading, as well as improve its management. In 2021, Costa Rica’s productivity improved by about 5%.

The Future

In an interview with CCTV, the current Costa Rican president, Rodrigo Chaves Robles stated his plans for helping Costa Rica improve its poverty rates. He hopes to increase Costa Rica’s productivity by creating “more and better-paying jobs.”

Moreover, according to the United Nations (U.N.), the Costa Rican government has been investing in the education of all children, hoping that more women can be integrated into labor markets. Societies in Costa Rica have also become more “prosperous” and health has improved due to these investments.

Overall, despite its increased poverty rates in 2020, poverty in Costa Rica has been able to improve since then due to ongoing initiatives, partnerships with the World Bank and U.N. and action plans taken by the past two Costa Rican presidents.

– Merlis Burgos-Ramos
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica's Poor
In the last few years, Costa Rica has experienced an increase in poverty, despite predicted lowering rates. In 2021, poverty reached 23% of households. This is equivalent to 383,500 households. About 6.3% of these households live in extreme poverty, meaning they cannot meet their basic needs. Translated, this means that 376,800 people cannot meet their basic food needs to survive. Increasing unemployment rates, which rose to 18% in 2021, are partially to blame for the increased poverty level among Costa Rica’s poor.

Women and Poverty

Poverty affects women at a more significant percentage in Costa Rica. This is partly due to the low labor force participation rates of women in the region. Paired with the lower wage that women often make compared to men, it seems inevitable that more women in Costa Rica continue to fall into poverty. Single mothers are specifically at risk. More than half of single mothers live in poverty, and their situation continues to deteriorate.

Bringing Awareness to Slums

Slums are one of the most concentrated examples of the intense poverty throughout Costa Rica. According to GlobalGiving, “Costa Rica has over 300 of these precarios in which more than 35,000 families live, almost all of them existing below the poverty line.”

A video that The Tico Times posted walks viewers through Triángulo de la Solidaridad, one of the best-known slums, in a tour that Boy with a Ball, a nonprofit organization that is working to improve the community. The video depicts tiny homes made of tin and wood crammed closely together. The community has unreliable electricity and no sewage system. More than 500 families live in these conditions, with 50% remaining unemployed. In an effort to bring awareness and relief to these communities, Boy with a Ball offers tours of the slums to tourists. Matus, a tour guide for Boy with a Ball explains his motivation behind aiding the cause: “I like [the tours] because this way I can show the other side of Costa Rica that normally tourists wouldn’t see.”

Boy With a Ball

Boy with a Ball began in 2004 when a small group of volunteer workers moved to San Jose, Costa Rica to work in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods. Since then, the company has created teams working in Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria and multiple cities in the U.S. In 2021, the organization impacted 2,577 youth and had more than 1,000 volunteers. The organization has also created 11 tutoring centers with more than 60 operating small groups to create personal mentoring relationships with youth in poverty.

Boy with a Ball works to reach the youth in the slums who often become involved in crime and drug trades in an attempt to escape their circumstances. By providing mentorship and the resources necessary to transform them into leaders for the community, the volunteers hope to encourage the next generation to build a life outside the slums.

The Future of Costa Rica’s Poor

The organization Action Change has extended its work outside of the slums in an attempt to bring education to more children and lower future poverty rates. According to Action Change’s website, “Poverty is a huge factor in education, families that have parents with less than 6 years of education, tend to have lower income and their children don’t finish school.” In addition, low funding for schools has left many children without a safe space to learn and play, by gathering funding and empowering community members, Action Change hopes to grow local communities and develop education throughout Costa Rica. The organization encourages students to stay in school by providing them with better-quality learning materials and safer school environments.

Action Change has supported more than 50 projects worldwide and celebrated the 15-year anniversary of its work in 2020. Action Change has raised more than $2 million to fund its projects to help Costa Rica’s poor.

Both Boy with a Ball and Action Change hopes to change the future statistics of poverty by empowering the next generation to build sustainable and prosperous lives. One child at a time, Costa Rica works to prevent future families from suffering the same poverty as their ancestors.

– Brooklynn Rich
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, there is hard evidence to support the “feminization of poverty” in which more women and women-led households are experiencing higher rates of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, gender inequality increased mainly through the increasing rates of income inequality. In addition, the inaccessibility of health rights for low-income women contributes to lower levels of education, delayed or restricted incorporation into the workforce and increased health risks resulting in economic repercussions that perpetuate a cycle of poverty. Therefore, reducing the gender inequality index and providing more resources to empower and fight for women’s rights in Costa Rica is paramount.

The Statistics

The gender divide continues to persist in Costa Rica and maintains a large influence in many areas, including the workforce. Only 50% of women participate in the workforce as opposed to 72% of men. Women also receive about 12% less in salary, increasing this gap more since 2013. Gender roles and stereotypes translate to career development with men making up 70% of science and engineering programs in Costa Rican universities and women entering more traditionally female positions with less economic and social standing. U.N. Women has reported that the unemployment rate for women in the nation is 15%, compared to 9.1% for men. This report also provides the nation’s overarching legal frameworks that “promote, enforce and monitor gender equality” with the level of achievement ratings, with public life and employment and economic benefits receiving low scores of 70 and 60 respectively.

Recent Progress

However, the government made significant progress in the past couple of weeks by passing legislation that will work to close the gender divide and protect women’s rights in Costa Rica. The Comprehensive reparation bill for survivors of femicide, which received approval on April 28, 2022, will provide support to the families of femicide victims. Since 2007, 400 women have died of femicide with 51 cases still pending investigation. This bill will provide a comprehensive reparation fund for the families of victims, supporting them through the psychological, social and economic effects of this crime.

In addition, the government enacted the Law to Prevent, Address, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women in Politics on May 3, 2022. This law protects the political rights of women and considers such actions as the prevention of a woman exercising the responsibilities of their position, restriction of workplace reincorporation following pregnancy, undermining their public image and disclosing their private information. As the National Women’s Institute of Costa Rica (INAMU) stated, the law also “considers discriminatory actions that affect the right to life, personal integrity and property rights to prevent the free exercise of political rights, as well as harassment, physical, psychological or sexual violence.” Consequences for members of politics that engage in this behavior range from ethical reprimands to the withdrawal of credentials.

Organizations in Costa Rica

Both the National Women’s Institute of Costa Rica (INAMU) and the Vital Voices nonprofit organization make up a large presence fighting for women’s rights in Costa Rica. INAMU is a governing institution that supports the expansion of women’s rights in coordination with the Costa Rican government by reinforcing the national effort toward the cause and providing comprehensive information training and resource access.

Vital Voices advocates for women’s rights in Costa Rica through its investment in women leaders that support the fight for change. Through its multifaceted approach, it addresses multiple issues in the nation including climate justice and political and policy advocacy. One of its many tenets includes the economic empowerment of women leaders by financially supporting their businesses, social enterprises and nonprofit organizations which in turn can boost the progression of their platform. Vital Voices is also fighting against gender-based violence by investing in leaders that strengthen the legislation around this issue, providing life-saving services immediately following an incident of violence and increasing the capacity of survivor-focused organizations to deliver locally-based solutions.

Although Costa Rica has seen some progress, there are more steps that the country can take. Income inequality is the most prevalent obstacle that many women in the nation are facing. Resolving inequality in the workplace can expand opportunities and give women more agency which in turn could lead to the disruption of the poverty cycle. The new legislation that passed will also allow women more freedom to be active participants in society through femicide prevention efforts and the protection of their workplace rights.

Kimberly Calugaru
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Costa Rica
The recent COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the economic stability of Central America’s wealthiest country and caused a resurgence in poverty. As a result, poverty reduction in Costa Rica has become an important goal for the country. Many know Costa Rica for its lush rainforests and beaches, universal healthcare system and environmental activism. However, since the pandemic began, thousands of small businesses have shut down due to low demand. The decreased income levels led many families to live below the poverty line. According to UNICEF, one in three children under 18 years of age in Costa Rica now lives in poverty. Poverty reduction in Costa Rica is necessary to create a healthier population throughout the country.

Economic Reform

While Costa Rica displayed steady economic growth in the past three decades, the recent pandemic impacted that trajectory. The current goals of economic reform in the country are to address fiscal imbalances while decreasing income inequality and distribution. According to President Alvarado Quesada, Costa Rica plans to accomplish this by strengthening social assistance programs. These social assistance programs aim to promote greater formalization and support female labor force participation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also aiding in economic recovery through a $1.7 billion arrangement. These assets will aid the country in improving public funding for subsidies to individuals the pandemic has heavily affected.

The government is seeking to continue decreasing income inequality through educating more children and adults, which could create long-term growth. Currently, the literacy rate in Costa Rica is high at 97.9%, but there is still a large gap in income inequality. In 2019, Costa Rica’s richest individuals held approximately 53.7% of the country’s income. The country will reduce poverty and income inequality by creating infrastructural reforms to streamline regulations and complete trade commitments, foreign direct investment and natural resources preservation. Increasing opportunities for females within the labor market is also vital to improving income inequality. In 2019, females made up 40.5% of the total labor workforce. This can improve through social assistance programs aimed at hiring females for jobs.

Tourism’s Effect on Poverty

In 2019, Costa Rica’s tourist industry represented 8.5% of gross domestic product and employed 9% of the population. However, in 2021, Costa Rica’s government estimates that the industry will only be worth approximately 3.5% of GDP and will decrease by approximately 100,000 jobs. In 2020, poverty in Costa Rica reached 26.2% of families, the highest level in 30 years due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 45% of the working-age population is in a condition of informal employment. In other words, they perform jobs without being registered or contributing to taxes and social security. Many of these informal positions relied on tourism such as the restaurant, hotel and excursions industries. With a lack of job security, individuals with these informal jobs were the first people that layoffs impacted.

COVID-19 Vaccines

Moving past the COVID-19 pandemic is necessary to restore the livelihoods of many Costa Rican people in poverty. To do this, the country is focusing on vaccinating low-income individuals. Earlier in 2021, rather than creating stringent lockdowns, the Costa Rican government imposed restrictions on vehicle mobility and limited business hours and capacity. The country also requires COVID-19 vaccinations for people to enter most commercial centers and participate in many public activities. Fortunately, the latest vaccination rates show 82% of all Costa Ricans ages 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.  Travelers to Costa Rica must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the country. These requirements can lead to a rapid return to tourism levels which will aid the country in returning to economic stability.

Moving Forward

With continued adherence to precautionary COVID-19 safety measures, individuals in Costa Rica can greatly protect public health. Meanwhile, the new social assistant programs promise to greatly assist in bringing about poverty reduction in Costa Rica.

– Robert Moncayo
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Latin AmericaArtificial intelligence (AI) is bound to increase global GDP by 14% in 2030, becoming one of the most prominent industries of the future. As the world sees an exponential increase in professionals who leverage artificial intelligence for social good in different fields, it will also witness a myriad of projects harnessing AI to help the poor in different areas of the world. Despite some pessimistic outlooks on AI for the future, it holds an intrinsic power to address Latin America’s most pressing issues. Here is some information about how AI can help alleviate poverty in Latin America.


The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) advocates a shared vision of AI to alleviate social inequality in Latin America. The IDB has acted on this vision by creating the fAIr LAC initiative, a broad network of multisectoral AI experts and practitioners to promote the ethical and humanitarian use of artificial intelligence, to foster economic growth and income distribution and ultimately to change social policymaking in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Teams at fAIr LAC have adopted the principles of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on AI that include human-centered values, inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being of civilians. Principle 1.1 addresses “responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI in pursuit of beneficial outcomes for people and the planet . . . advancing inclusion of underrepresented populations, reducing economic, social, gender and other inequalities, and protecting natural environments . . . .”

To carry out its ambitious agenda, the IDB is collaborating with data-driven enterprises in the region to introduce digital tools to create AI of social value. In this way, both businesses and social development organizations can take advantage of this technology.

Algorithmic Justice

fAIrLAC’s diverse network of professionals has a commitment to creating algorithmic justice to address inequality in Latin American society, as policies are only as effective and non-biased as the algorithms on which they are based. Trustworthy and useful AI can take many forms. The network has developed pilot projects encompassing issues such as government response time, aid delivery, education and natural disaster warning. The fAIr LAC regional observatory maps and tracks AI projects in Latin America and it thus knows who is implementing AI in the region, and for what purposes.

Using AI for Social Welfare

The Sisben Welfare Index in Colombia is a system of surveys through which households are scored on four dimensions to determine the need for social assistance. Through fAIr LAC, it has managed to increase social assistance and efficiency and has improved resource allocation, rooting out possible biases through a more consistent assessment of eligibility.

The Costa Rican Household Poverty Level Prediction uses the Proxy Mean Test, an algorithm to verify whether a family can qualify for aid, as the poorest households in Latin America cannot usually provide records of their living conditions or salaries. The PMT uses alternative attributes to see if a family is fit for aid and whether it is currently looking for more attributes that AI can measure. For this purpose, IDB has developed a challenge—a data science competition to predict household poverty in Costa Rica.

AI to alleviate poverty in Latin America can be helpful in numerous ways. Through the efforts of the Sisben Welfare Index and the Proxy Mean Test, hopefully, Latin America will see a reduction in poverty over time.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica, Pura Vida, Central America, Jungle, Green

In 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to provide Costa Rica with a $1.7 billion loan “to support Costa Rica’s recovery and stabilization from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Although the Costa Rican government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was effective, economic improvements are stagnant. Costa Rica’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the COVID-19 pandemic created a significant halt in this sector. The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would help create jobs in high-demand areas and improve the resiliency of businesses.

Economic Challenges During COVID-19

The World Bank indicates that Costa Rica’s economy expanded over the last quarter of a century, with poverty rates lower than other Latin American countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the economy to decline by 4.6% in 2020. As a result, “one out of five workers” experienced unemployment by the last quarter of 2020 and the poverty rate in Costa Rica increased to 13%. As the situation improves, the economy expects to grow by 2.6% in 2021 and 3.3% in 2022.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that besides the pandemic, Costa Rica’s increased budget deficits and debt could have played a role in the recent economic destruction. Since the Costa Rican government had to provide additional funding for social and health programs, the budget deficits would grow further. Therefore, a strong recovery plan is necessary to lower deficits and improve Costa Rica’s economic situation.

Tourism: A Struggling Industry

According to Reuters, Costa Rica’s economy struggled since “hotel and trade shrank by 40% last year.” The pandemic and tourism produced 8.5% of its gross domestic product. At the beginning of 2021, fewer tourists visited than in previous years, indicating that economic recovery could take a while. However, officials in the tourism industry remain optimistic for more tourists in the future since many attractions are outdoors and there are fewer concerns about the virus spreading in open areas.

However, the amount of COVID-19 cases in Costa Rica was at its highest point from the end of April 2021 into early May 2021, leading to decreased levels of tourism. The U.S. even issued a travel advisory warning for citizens planning to visit Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government attempted to help the tourism sector by indicating that industries such as tourism did not need to impose new COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, several groups of international tourists canceled their plans to visit.

Officials aim to improve economic conditions by expanding sustainable tourism. This would benefit the environment and help small businesses. The Minister of Tourism explained that expanding this industry would increase employees’ incomes and allow tourists to see different attractions. Officials introduced this plan to the national bank to see if it could consider using additional recovery strategies such as credits or implementing changes in rates.

Overcoming the Economic Challenges

So far, the Costa Rican government has made several efforts to assist those most impacted by the pandemic. It distributed grants to at least 700,000 citizens who suffered the most during the pandemic. It also had businesses impose strict health precautions, preventing a massive spread of the virus and further economic downturn.

Al Jazeera states that the Costa Rican government began working with the IMF to obtain a loan that would go toward tax reform and selling assets. The IMF’s assistance would also help Costa Rica pay off part of the significant debt accumulated within the past few decades.

The IMF’s assistance expects to cover a three-year time frame to improve economic conditions and reduce poverty rates. The Costa Rican government also plans to put the loan toward strategies that could boost employment. The IMF reports that the majority of those facing unemployment are women and youths. Various career fields in Costa Rica need employees and many companies are struggling to hire due to the pandemic.

The Costa Rican government thinks increased spending on social services would allow more women to enter the workforce since these programs will ease the burden of many familial caretaking responsibilities often resting on the shoulders of women. In addition, the government wants to pass legislation that aims to improve the education system to increase the possibility of employment opportunities in higher-paying jobs.

Moving Forward

The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would mitigate the current economic situation by addressing the root causes of high unemployment rates and income inequality. This effort would contribute to further development and potentially allow Costa Rica’s economy to reach pre-pandemic rates of growth.

Cristina Velaz

Photo: Pixabay

Period Poverty in Costa RicaIn the 1980s, Costa Rica faced one of its worst economic downturns to date. Record high inflation and rising unemployment rates swiftly became a reality for the small country. In the years since, Costa Rica has pulled off an impressive recovery, but a recent trend of slowing growth rates may point to underlying socio-economic issues, particularly impacting women. In order to effectively close the gender gap, efforts must focus on alleviating period poverty in Costa Rica.

Poverty Response in Costa Rica

After its economic collapse, Costa Rica’s resilience shone through in the country’s determination to revive its economy. However, Costa Rica’s success as one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America comes along with a noticeable decline in its poverty rate over the last 20 years. In 2010, 2.2% of GDP was spent on almost 45 poverty programs, according to the CATO Institute. Although Costa Rica’s expenditure was one of the highest in comparison to other countries, the policies have stagnated in providing results. National poverty rates rose more than 1% between 2017 and 2018, with nearly 12,371 new households falling into extreme poverty.

Many economists point to income and labor inequality as the main factors behind this trend. The falling high school enrollment rates during the 1980s, as a result of families sending their children into the workforce, account for the generation of laborers in unskilled positions. In recent years, the increased demand for skilled workers has left this population struggling to make ends meet. Most notably, this labor inequality is directly linked to low labor force participation, particularly concentrated among impoverished groups.

The Presence of Gender Inequality

Costa Rica ranks fourth among Latin American countries with the lowest labor participation rate among women. The female population, who already make up a smaller percentage of the workforce overall, still experience entry barriers amid a period of job growth. Gender inequality remains rampant in Costa Rica as women find themselves not only distanced from receiving a proper education but also more likely to spend time on unpaid work. Forced into taking responsibility for the majority of household tasks involving cleaning, cooking and child-rearing prevent women from contributing to the labor market and carving out a stable financial situation for themselves.

While several initiatives promote gender equality, there remains an “apparent feminization of income poverty,” as explained by Professor Sylvia Chant. In a 2008 research paper, Chant explains that while Costa Rica has made considerable strides in overcoming poverty inequalities, women are much more likely to remain impoverished. Period poverty, though more of a consequence than a direct correlation, impacts impoverished women who also generally lack access to schooling, job opportunities and financial security.

Empowerment movements often fail to address how women in male-dominated households face negligence or violence in the case of failing to meet expectations. Not having an outlet in which they can make money of their own leaves them without assistance or the knowledge of how to tackle period poverty. This ultimately keeps women trapped in a cycle of helplessness. Single mother households, which have been on the rise in recent years, witness such inequality firsthand. Due to gender inequality, many single mothers are unable to find jobs and provide a stable household for their children, often feeding into the cycle of prioritizing survival over education.

A Brighter Future for Costa Rican Women

Community leader Ana López Ramírez hopes to empower Costa Rican women and address period poverty in Costa Rica. After noticing the disparities in her community, she began an organization focusing on empowering imprisoned women — a highly vulnerable group in Costa Rica. Along with other social justice organizations, she helps to provide reusable sanitation pads that women can use freely while incarcerated. Her organization now works on distributing products to women who have since been released, raising awareness on period poverty and menstrual health in Costa Rica.

These efforts have also made headway legislatively with the introduction of a bill in March 2021 surrounding the Menstruation and Justice project, which hopes to reduce the value-added tax on menstrual products. The bill aims to classify all menstrual products as part of the “Basic Priority Goods Basket.” This law will make sanitary products more accessible, reducing period poverty in Costa Rica. The initiative also pushes for increased menstrual education, urging the Ministry of Justice, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Health to include menstrual health education in public policies.

With continued commitment, individuals, organizations and the Costa Rican government can drastically reduce period poverty in Costa Rica while simultaneously empowering impoverished Costa Rican women.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr