29.2% of Latin Americans live in poverty, whilst 10.2% live in extreme poverty. In other words, there are 182 million poor people and 63 million people living in conditions of extreme hardship in Latin America. This inequality is even more pronounced for women and indigenous people. Considering the current rise of political forces that do not consider minorities to be amongst their priorities, the outlook is not encouraging.
Amongst the millions of people in the ranks of the least fortunate there are deep divides; in rural zones, poverty is 20% more prevalent than in cities and extreme poverty affects 20.4% of the population that lives in the countryside.
Indigenous people, who represent a significant portion of the population in some Latin American societies, are the most affected by poverty; 51% of them live in it.
This is indicated by the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in its social panorama of the region.
According to ECLAC’s Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, there has been an increase in social expenditure in the national strategies of various countries in Latin America between 2011 and 2016, but this has not been enough to cause an effective reduction in poverty and extreme poverty, which continues to grow.
In contrast, investment into areas such as housing and community services, health, education, protection of the environment and social security, among others, has stagnated.
The definition of the levels that constitute poverty and extreme poverty in ECLAC’s study is based on income, and, accordingly, the study also brought to light serious problems in labour market performance and salaries.
These problems arise from the fact that amongst those who have paid work, a third are involved in informal activities and therefore lack social benefits. Over half of the population does not contribute to the pension system, which is why their situation becomes extraordinarily uncertain when they reach old age.
Meanwhile, according to the data on the 18 countries included in ECLAC’s report, 42% of workers receive an income lower than the minimum wage in force in those countries and, once more, the most affected groups were women and young people.
49 in every 100 women are in this position, yet it is even worse for young people, as 56% earn less than the established minimum. However, if someone is a young woman, there is a 60% chance that they have a low quality job earning an insufficient income.
The problem is not circumstantial but rather deep-rooted as, in countries that are traditionally machista such as in Latin America, women remain second-class citizens despite the advances made by feminist movements in the last few decades and the empowerment encouraged by the region’s most progressive governments.
As a matter of fact, the study dedicates a chapter to the economic autonomy of women in the face of challenges posed by changes in the labour market resulting from technological development.
They have fewer possibilities to participate in the labour force due to the enormous workload that accompanies non-paid domestic work. The employment rate for women is 24.2% lower than it is for men and it is more difficult for women to find a job.
All this, along with the additional problem of what ECLAC describes as ‘occupational gender segregation’, means that over half of Latin American and Caribbean women are employed in low-skilled positions, and in practically all branches of work they receive lower salaries than men for the same work.
And, against the backdrop of profound technological changes that are occurring in many nations’ economies, the future looks far from promising for the vast majority.
In this respect, Alicia Bárcena indicates that home-based care, commerce and manufacturing sectors account for over 61% of the female labour force, however the latter two cover activities that do not require specialised knowledge and comprise a lot of routine tasks, so are prone to the introduction of automated processes with the consequent risks of unemployment.
This is not the case with women who are employed in home-based care and the care of elderly people, which, with the demographic changes caused by the population ageing, are demanding a larger work force. Given the nature of this work, it is nearly impossible that automatisation will affect it. But this potential source of work does not require high qualifications and is characterised by low salaries and a lack of guarantees and social security. This is why women appear to be condemned to continue being second-class citizens, forming the majority of the poorest parts of society. (PL)
(Translated by Zosia Niedermaier-Reed – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay)