The negative impact of Covid-19 in this region highlights and intensifies the great structural disparities that exist in these countries, ravaged by unemployment, poverty and inequality.
An estimated number of 209 million people fell into poverty in 2020 due to the critical health situation, 22 million more than in 2019. 78 million of them are living in extreme poverty, eight million more than in the previous year.
In the annual Social Panorama of Latin America 2020 report, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) points out that these levels of poverty have not been seen in the last 12 to 20 years. However, ECLAC explains, the aftermath of the pandemic only increased the setback experienced in the area during the six-year period between 2014 and 2019, which already showed signs of stagnation compared to the social progress achieved between 2002 and 2014.
The organisation states that, between 2014 and 2019, the percentage of extreme poverty increased in Latin America from 7.8% to 11.3%, and poverty increased from 27.8% to 30.5%.
We have to bear in mind that the existing gaps depend on population groups, as poverty is higher in rural areas, among children and teenagers, indigenous people and Afro-descendants, and among the population with lower levels of education.
According to a joint report by ECLAC and the International Labour Organisation, the state of the labour market, which has been showing adverse trends in Latin America since 2015, has worsened, while in 2020 it experienced a sharp fall in employment and a deterioration in the quality of employment.
This negative situation of employment varies from country to country, although the most affected are informal workers and women.
According to experts, the impact on women has increased because of the burden of unpaid care work as a result of the closure of educational establishments that had already been in deficit for some time. Meanwhile, the youngest girls are especially vulnerable, as most of them are outside the labour market and the education system, according to the international organisation.
The situation is no better for older people; ECLAC has been forecasting a decline and fewer opportunities in the labour market since 2018, a precarious situation in this context of the pandemic.
Ethnic and racial issues, as well as others linked to territory, disability or immigration status also amplify the inequalities in employment.
In another order, the aforementioned research means that between 2019 and 2020, the low-income strata increased by 4.5 percentage points, representing an additional 28 million people, while middle-income strata decreased by 4.1 percentage points, which adds up to 25 million individuals affected.
In the opinion of analysts, the pandemic in Latin America made visible and intensified the large structural gaps that have existed for years.
In view of this severe situation, ECLAC’s executive secretary, Alicia Bárcena, warned that the costs of inequality are unsustainable, and called for reconstruction with equality and sustainability in mind, in order to create a true state of well-being, a task long overdue in the region.
This requires guaranteeing universal social protection as a central pillar of the state of well-being, moving towards new social and fiscal pacts, and guaranteeing health, education and digital inclusion, in order to leave no one behind. (PL)