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Poverty in PanamaPanama — the narrow bridge of land that connects North and South America. The tropical country is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse plant, animal and bird life. Yet, all that sparkles, is not glitter. Panama’s economy is highly unequal and there’s a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Poverty in Panama is as much of a prominent feature of the country as its landscape.

Rural Poverty

Ethnicity and geographic location determine one’s poverty in Panama. Panamanians who live in rural areas do not have adequate access to resources, such as hospitals and schools. This is a result of the lack of professional doctors and teachers or mentors in rural areas.

Panama is the second worst in income distribution in Latin America, which leads to sector-specific poverty. Unpaved roads in the country make it are especially difficult for farmers. Accordingly, they do not end up selling their crops in big cities where they can earn a large income. Thus, begins a chain of poverty in Panama that devolves into poor hygiene, sanitation, child labor, malnutrition and eventually yet another generation submerged in loans.

Child Poverty

About 27.7% of Panamanian children live in poverty and 12% experience malnutrition. Failure to register children at birth causes many to go without citizenship. Thus, the government is ignorant on its exact child population and cannot justly allocate money to the “nonexistent.”

Around 15% of children are victims to early marriages. The legal age to marry in Panama is 16 for boys and 14 for girls. However, most of these children are not registered with the government, so kids are married off at ages as young as 10.

The minimum age for working in Panama is 15. Even with this being the case, 5-year-old children can be seen carrying bricks in construction sites. Severally underage workers — child laborers — even appear in big cities like Panama City and Tocumen. To earn a few dollars more, families force their children to work. However, it’s at the cost of children being mentally and physically exploited.

The Rays of Light

Panama has done much to fight poverty. From 2015-2017, poverty in Panama declined from 15.4%  to 14.1%. In the same time span, extreme poverty decreased from 6.7% to 6.6%. Additionally, there are currently multiple NGOs working to help poverty and other problems in Panama. One is to Educate Women in Panama. The organization’s goal is to help lower poverty in the future through more women and girls getting their education. Education will help these women find jobs easier, lowering the poverty rate.

The country, with aid of NGOs and the government, has the potential to bridge the income inequality gap and make itself an equitable society for all, regardless of class, region or ethnicity. Panama can be as bright and colorful as its beaches for not only the urbanites but also the rurals.

Riddhi Bhattacharya
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Panama
In the past decade, Panama’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing among its Latin American counterparts, its growth largely due to the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016. Yet, the growth of the economy does not translate to the prosperity of the entire country. According to a CIA analysis, Panama’s income distribution is the second-worst in Latin America. This means that even with a growing economy, poverty in Panama is still a significant issue with many Panamanians living under the poverty line.

Though the Panamanian government allocates fundings to education and social programs, poverty continues to be a significant issue in Panama. Poverty is more significant in certain areas of the country, highlighting the economic inequality within Panama. Factors such as ethnicity, income level and education level all hold influence over one’s access to basic services and opportunities such as education and health care. Here are five facts about poverty in Panama.

5 Facts About Poverty in Panama

  1. Panama’s urban and rural areas have a large wealth disparity: According to the World Bank, 31.94% of the entire population of Panama lived in rural areas in 2019. These areas rarely see the benefits of the recent boost in economic activity, as 27% of the rural population lives in extreme poverty in comparison to 4% in urban areas.
  2. The national poverty rate is decreasing, but it is still high: In 2005, the national poverty rate of Panama was at 38.3%. In 2016, the figure dropped to 22.1%. Although the poverty rate is seeing a downward trend, it is important to put these figures in perspective: over one in five Panamanians is living in poverty.
  3. Poverty affects indigenous people in Panama in particular: Seven indigenous groups exist in Panama and the government often overlooks their rights, such as the rights to their territories. Poverty is especially dominant in rural areas that include mostly indigenous populations. In fact, 86% of the indigenous population lives in poverty and over 90% cannot meet basic needs.
  4. There is a significant gap in health care access: Rural areas often lack the resources to give Panamanians equal access to health care. As indigenous people largely populate rural areas, they often have 11 fewer years in life expectancy than the overall population, at 67.75 years and 79 years respectively.
  5. Some cannot easily obtain education: Because of better access to resources and job opportunities, urban populations are the most educated and enjoy comparatively affluent and healthy lives. Meanwhile, non-indigenous rural poor are more likely to escape poverty through labor migration from rural to urban areas. However, rural areas lack the schools and resources (such as internet connection) to educate their children. According to the World Bank, the gross enrollment rate at primary schools in 2017 was about 87% of the figure in 2007.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Unemployment

There is a sharp difference between the rich and the poor in Panama. In 2017, the top 20% of the population generated 54.2% of the income, while low-income communities had high poverty and unemployment rates. One such community is Colón, a coastal city in Panama that has a 50% unemployment rate. There, inhabitants struggle to pay rent as a result of Panama’s building boom.

Panama’s economy relies heavily on global trade through the Panama Canal as well as its service section, which makes up 75% of the country’s GDP. Both saw a sudden drop in activity as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the country expects to see a rise in unemployment and poverty rates, reversing the Panamanian government’s push to improve poverty rates.

Reducing the Poverty Rate

Though expectations are that Panama’s poverty rate is going to rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall trend appears to be positive. From 2010 to 2018, the percentage of the population living on under $3.20 USD per day halved, dropping from 10.7% to 5.2%. There has also been an increase in secondary education among rural and indigenous communities. Panama’s $326 million portfolio oversees five active projects that push to improve social protection, governance, disaster risk management, wastewater management and support to the Indigenous Peoples Plan. With economic growth and government policies, Panama has made progress in reducing poverty in recent years.

The government hopes that its continued and further investment in infrastructure and social programs will foster prosperity within the general population through increased opportunities in education and jobs, improving the overall poverty rate of the country and among the poor, rural population.

SOS Children’s Villages International

SOS Children’s Villages International is a nonprofit organization that operates in Panama, fighting poverty through assisting children. At each of its four locations – Panama City, Davíd, Colón and Penonomé – the organization supports the youth population by providing daycare, education, vocational training, playgrounds and sports facilities. In the case that children do not have a home to stay at, the organization provides families for them to stay with. By providing these means of assistance, the organization hopes to decrease the child labor that is prevalent in the region as a result of extreme poverty. With education more accessible and families less financially-burdened, the organization provides crucial resources to improve poverty in both rural and urban areas of Panama.

SOS Children’s Villages International has been operating in the capital city of the Chiriquí province, Davíd, since 1999. Davíd is a city with 180,000 inhabitants and its population is mostly reliant on its agricultural sector. However, 34.6% of the population lives in poverty, over 4,000 children in the province engage in child labor and 58% do not attend school. The organization has helped the children in this province by providing 13 SOS houses for them to live in, assisting them with education and other basic necessities.

While poverty in Panama is a significant issue, it has managed to reduce it in recent years. With continued attention by Panama’s government and organizations like SOS Children’s Villages International, the country should be able to continue its progression in making poverty a thing of the past.

– Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

Top Ten Facts About Living Conditions In Panama
Panama is a country that has experienced impressive economic growth since 2000 when it acquired ownership of the Panama Canal from the United States. However, while urban areas have experienced economic growth the opposite is true in the country’s rural areas. Listed below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama.

Top 10 Facts About living conditions in Panama

  1. Panama is a leader among its Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in terms of poverty reduction. Using the national poverty line as a point of reference, Panama was able to reduce poverty from 39.9 percent to 26.2 percent and extreme poverty from 15.6 percent to 11.3 percent between 2007 and 2012.
  2. Panama has experienced a period of high economic growth within the past decade. Between 2001 and 2013 the average annual growth was 7.2 percent, making the country one of the fast-growing economies in the world. The transfer of the Canal to Panama has played a huge role in this regard. In addition, with a $5.25 billion expansion of the canal, Panama is thriving as a logistics trade hub and a financial center that sees 4 percent of all global trade pass through its waters.
  3. Although strong growth and poverty reduction are two of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama, there is inconsistency in the regional spread of such improvements. Urban extreme poverty fell 40 percent between 2007 and 2012; in rural areas, the decline was 15 percent and in the indigenous territories only 4 percent. The groups with the lowest incomes and greatest dependence on social assistance are the indigenous populations.
  4. Economic and social development among indigenous groups in Panama falls behind that of other indigenous groups in Latin America. Compared to its Latin American counterparts, Panama has the lowest level of electricity coverage among the indigenous population and the largest gap between indigenous and non-indigenous populations (52 percentage points compared to the next largest gap of 38 percentage points in Colombia). The situation is similar in terms of sanitation and piped water. In the indigenous people’s territories, poverty is almost universal and persistent.
  5. In the absence of sanitation, electricity, clean water and other infrastructure accompanied by poverty and poor health knowledge one NGO, Floating Doctors, works to provide free acute and preventative health care services. Using a boat to access Panama’s most remote areas Floating Doctors operates over a 10,000 square mile area of mangrove mazes and jungle-covered mountainous terrain in which they are often the only medical service available. Utilizing qualified volunteers the organization has provided health care to over 60,000 patients in Panama who would otherwise not have access to health care.
  6. Panama’s health care sector has seen significant advancement in recent years and the country is now closer than ever to achieving universal coverage. The government has remained committed to improving access and increasing efficiency, with an emphasis on expanding public infrastructure including the construction of five major regional hospitals in 2014 that will serve approximately 17 percent of the population.
  7. There is a major difference between the extremely poor and the rest of the population. The heads of extremely poor households in Panama have only 5.1 years of education — 4.5 fewer than the national average. This is largely due to difficulties in accessing educational institutions; students in rural areas face treacherous flooding during the rainy season and often stop attending school altogether. In addition, the households of the extremely poor have much higher dependency ratios, driven by a much greater share of young children, and lower life expectancy.
  8. One of the most distinctive of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama is from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014/15 which ranks Panama 83rd out of 144 countries for the quality of its education system, eight spots lower than the previous period. The report also attributes the drop to the mismatch between educational offerings and labor market needs. Primary enrollment in Panama is almost universal and secondary enrollments are increasing however retention in secondary education is low and there are concerns about the quality and relevance of the education system for the present job market.
  9. The Panamanian government has developed a 5-year Strategic Development Plan for 2015-2019 based on inclusion and competition. The government’s goals include initiatives designed to enhance productivity and diversify growth, enhance the quality of life, strengthen human capital, improve infrastructure, and improve environmental sustainability and management.
  10. UNICEF plans to cooperate with the Panamanian government by supporting national and local public institutions to develop policies and programs that contribute to every child in Panama being able to develop in conditions of equity and equality. In addition, alliances with different sectors will be promoted to reduce the disparities that affect the indigenous and afro-descendant population.

Panama, a country with a growing economy, has a drastically unequal distribution of resources and opportunity. It is important to understand the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama in order for political leaders to address these issues.

– Paul Logsdon
Photo: Google