BUENOS AIRES — With two major economic calamities in the 21st century alone, few countries in the world have experienced as much economic turbulence as Argentina. This has inevitably affected Argentina’s poverty rate, which appears to be worsening. In 2016 an estimated 1.5 million Argentines fell below the poverty line.
The most accurate adjective to describe Argentina’s poverty rate would be volatile. In the past ten years, there have been four distinct years of economic shrinkage, which have been accompanied by spikes in poverty and unemployment.
The current government acknowledges that a third of the population currently lives below the poverty line. Mauricio Macri, the current growth-centric President, made poverty a centerpiece of his electoral platform. “Knowing that one in three Argentines find themselves below the poverty line is something that has to hurt us,” he commented upon the release of new data revealing the extent of Argentina’s poverty.
The economy does indeed appear to show signs of improvement – Argentina’s economy left recession in the second half of 2016, with agricultural export tax reductions and currency controls propelling the new economic agenda.
However, poverty reduction has been sidelined. These same reforms have spurred on inflation and swelled the ranks of the country’s poor. The 32 percent poverty rate has remained static and Macri’s falling approval ratings reflect the country’s impatience.
The previous administration led by Christina Kirchner also failed to fully address Argentina’s poverty rate. Under her leadership the government largely gave up keeping track of the size of the problem and data was ignored. Big-budget populist projects, such as enforcing domestic production of electronics, also backfired.
Argentines suffered from this protectionist agenda. In slums such as Villa 1-11-14, which swelled in size under Kirchner, the population is so neglected the community does not even have an official name or status under law.
The extent of Argentina’s poverty rate is particularly painful for a nation that by all accounts should be wealthy. At the turn of the 20th century, Buenos Aires was a beacon for poor immigrants travelling to the new world. Argentina was among the ten richest societies on earth and the cultural and architectural symbols of its capital still reflect the nation’s glorious past.
Macri possesses an immense pride in the illustrious history of the country he now leads. He came into office with a “zero poverty promise” — a commitment he has so far failed to fulfill. However, there are reforms on the horizon with the potential to bring down the current poverty rate.
The government has agreed to introduce a “social emergency loan,” capable of generating a million jobs and raising the salaries of Argentines in informal sectors that are often crushed by the country’s economic instability.
If Argentina’s poverty rate can be improved in tandem with a growing economy — something that has eluded the two most recent governments — then perhaps the nation can begin to rebuild the wealthy society it once cultivated.
– Jonathan Riddick