10 Facts about Poverty in Latin America
Within the past decade, 70 million people were able to escape poverty in Latin America due to economic growth and a lessened income gap. However, millions still remain in the cycle of poverty. Presented below is key data about poverty in Latin America.


10 Leading Facts on Poverty in Latin America


  1. One in five Latin Americans lives in chronic poverty conditions. Latin Americans account for 130 million of the nearly 500 million who live in chronic poverty worldwide.
  2. Poverty rates vary from country to country in the Latin American region. With estimated poverty rates floating around 10 percent, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have the lowest chronic poverty rates. Meanwhile, Nicaragua with 37 percent and Guatemala with 50 percent have the highest chronic poverty rates in Latin America, which are well above the regional average of 21 percent.
  3. Poverty rates can also vary within a country. A single country can have both ends of the spectrum with the highest poverty rate that is eight times higher than the lowest. For example, Brazil has a chronic poverty rate of 5 percent in Santa Catarina, but 40 percent in Ceará.
  4. Poverty in Latin America encompasses both urban and rural areas. Most assume that rural areas have higher poverty rates than urban areas, like in Bolivia, where the amount of people living in rural poverty is 20 percentage points higher than those living in urban poverty. However, the number of the urban poor is higher than the number of rural poor in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
  5. Poor Latin Americans lack access to basic health care services. Approximately 20 percent of the Latin American and Caribbean population lack access to health care due to their poverty conditions. The region also has high rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
  6. Those living in poverty in Latin America lack access to safe water and sanitation. The World Water Council reported that 77 million people lack access to safe water or live without a water source in their homes. Of the 77 million, 51 million live in rural areas and 26 million live in urban areas. An estimated 256 million rely on latrines and septic tanks as an alternative to basic sanitation.
  7. The lack of education in Latin America lowers prospects of rising out of poverty. One in 12 young people ages 15 to 24 have not completed primary school, and therefore lack the skills necessary to find decent jobs. The same age group represents 40 percent of the total number of unemployed in many Latin American countries. When they are employed, six out of 10 jobs are informal, lacking decent wages, contract agreements and social security rights.
  8. Limited economic opportunities keep the poor in poverty. The biggest factor that led to poverty reduction from 2004-2012 was labor income. The Huffington Post reported that in poor households every Latin American country had an average of 20 percent “fewer human resources to generate income” than non-poor households and those households who managed to escape poverty.
  9. Chronic poverty levels are falling. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of Latin Americans living on under $4 a day decreased from 45 percent to 25 percent. The Latin American population living on $2.5 per day fell from 28 percent to 14 percent.
  10. The falling poverty levels in Latin America can be attributed to improved public policy. Latin American governments created conditional cash transfers (CCT), which substituted subsidies for money transfers for the poor who invested in human capital beginning in the late 1990s. As a result, child attendance in schools has risen and families have more food and more diversity in diets.

In 2010, the middle-class population exceeded the low-income population for the first time in the region. However, with one-fifth of the population still in poverty, there is much work to be done.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Senegal, Africa
Senegal is a geographically and culturally diverse country with 5 languages, a desert in the north and tropical climate in the south. This all exists within a country about the size of South Dakota. Praised as one of the most successful democracies in Africa, Senegal is making progress on many of the World Bank indicators of decreasing poverty. Yet, poverty in Senegal persists.

Senegal still faces many of the challenges that are commonplace on the continent. Extreme weather causes crop failures, impacting the strategic economic sector of groundnuts. A ban on street beggars has taken the only source of income from many families, essentially hurting those the ban was supposed to help. Former dictator Chad Hissène Habré awaits trail, accused of ordering thousands of political killings in the 1980s.  Additionally, a “long-running, low-level separatist war in the southern Casamance region” impacts the residents and detracts from the political cohesion needed to tackle a wide range of health and education problems. These are just a few of the high-level political and economic challenges facing this country.

Despite the difficult political, economic, social and geographic terrain facing this country, there has been steady progress over the last few years. According to World Bank data, primary school enrollment has been steadily increasing to 86%. CO2 emissions are slowly but steadily decreasing. Also, the percentage of the national population living below the national poverty line is at a 10 year low.

Poverty facts and figures
A segment of the Senegalese population suffers from chronic poverty. Chronic poverty is defined by the Chronic Poverty Research Center as poverty lasting many years and possibly over multiple generations. The chronically poor are “often multi-dimensionally deprived and may experience preventable deaths early (and so are not even counted).” In Senegal, chronic poverty has marred the last 80 years of progress. There are more chronically poor than transitional poor (people who move in and out of poverty) or the non-poor. A report by the Chronic Poverty Research Center found that not only are 60% of households “poor or vulnerable” but that there is a possibility that the poverty will be passed on to the next generation.

Events such as “loss of harvest, conflict, theft, flooding, divorce, loss of spouce, and/or loss of capital” drastically increase vulnerability. While there is little mobility between life-stages, the youth are more likely to escape poverty. Additionally, “older women [are] less likely to live in chronic poverty than their male counterparts.”

There are several other strongly correlated factors. First is an ethnic correlation. The minority ethnic groups Pulaar and Sereer are at an 83% risk of poverty, with the Dolar face an 80% risk of becoming chronically impoverished. The results on the geographic correlation to poverty yield that rural households are more likely to suffer from chronic impoverishment. Lack of education and child-labor are also strongly linked to poverty, particularly chronic poverty in Senegal.

Social networks are an important social safety net in Senegal. Households often include multiple families who share resources and risks. The Chronic Poverty report suggests that the social network must play a key role in “developing human capital, agricultural investments, and improving food security, particularly in rural areas.” Entrepreneurship needs to be enabled via “endogenous development” in order to link development from villages to national level. A multi-sector inclusive approach is necessary because of the currently limited economic base.

Despite the uphill battle Senegal faces in reducing poverty, progress is being made and the momentum is being put to good use. Strategies for reducing poverty are being implemented by the World Bank and the United States Peace Corps with measurable results.

Katherine Zobre

Sources: CIA World Factbook , BBC, Huffington Post, World Bank, NPR, Human Rights Watch, Chronic Poverty Research Center, Chronic Poverty Research Center
Photo: Chronic Poverty in Senegal