Pandemic and Poverty

Published on April 2

Poverty in Argentina increased from 32% of the propulation during the second half of 2018 to 35.5% for the same period in 2019, meaning that around one and a half million more people live now in poverty.  Poverty is concentrated in children and adolescents. For the aforementioned period, 52.3% of those under the age of 15 are in poverty, almost 17 percentage points above the overall total. This observation confirms the infantilization of poverty, a phenomenon that has been observed in previous periods.

Reducing poverty is a legal, ethical, social, political and strategic imperative. New challenges are added to the urgency of meeting this imperative given the current context, marked by a profound decline in activity under the COVID-19 pandemic. Its economic and social effects will severely impact those living in poverty.

First, those in poverty have more precarious jobs compared to the rest of the population. Their work tends to be informal, in low-skilled independent jobs, in small businesses and/or in temporary jobs (through changas, for example). This means that they are more likely to be excluded from the protection systems already established in the formal sector. According to the report on chronic poverty prepared by Gasparini et al. (2019), of the 10% most vulnerable within the population, only about one-third have a job that guarantees retirement and/or health insurance, and up to 35% report not having a steady job.

Second, class suspension has effects that ultimately exacerbate inequities regarding the right to education. Schools are indispensable players not only given learning opportunities for children and adolescents, but for the organization of home care as well. Suspending classes as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the virus means that households with fewer resources face greater difficulties in reconciling the need to work to ensure an additional burden on care. In turn, this also has implications for gender inequality as, traditionally, the burden of care falls almost exclusively on women. On the other hand, connectivity gaps and the use of digital devices involves greater difficulties for children in the most vulnerable sectors to effectively access alternative strategies to continue teaching-learning processes in their homes.

Third, people in poverty live in precarious habitat conditions that make it difficult to comply with established remoteness measures. This not only implies less access to connectivity through the internet and/or television, crucial factors in sustaining the social fabric in times of physical estrangement, but also implies not having access to basic goods such as gas for cooking and heating and living in houses built with precarious materials and high levels of overcrowding.

The government showed that it is no stranger to the differential challenges that operate in the population and announced various measures aimed at alleviating the negative effects on the most vulnerable sectors. To boost household income, policies such as advance funds of ARS 3,100 were announced to those who receive the Universal Child Allowance (AUH) and an additional ARS 3,000 boost for those who hold Argentine employment policies. In turn, during the month of April, an Emergency Household Income of ARS 10,000 will be transferred to the households of single-parent workers within the categories of a) informal workers, and/or b) self-employed workers. On the other hand, it was announced that schools will focus on increased food access for children in the most vulnerable households. Finally, a ARS 3,000 bonus for elderly people receiving minimum retirement stipends will be given.

This unprecedented health crisis shows the importance of generating strong social protection legislation. It illustrates just how relevant participation, responsibility, and well-being is amongst everyone. It is necessary to bear in mind that Argentina has had negative impacts from previous recessionary years and has less room for maneuver than other countries. It will therefore be crucial to calibrate the measures with the aim of enhancing the best possible effects, in terms of health and social protection for the entire population. Getting ahead will require an unusual joint effort, on top of an already unusual scenario.

 

Autor


Carola della Paolera

Coordinator of the Social Protection Program

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