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Poverty stood at 17.8% in 2013, pro-gov’t CTA says

CTA leader Hugo Yasky holds up a chart showing the country’s decreasing poverty rates since 2003.

Government-allied union umbrella seems to provide a middle ground on poverty rates

In the seemingly constant flurry of numbers relating to the country’s poverty rate, the pro-government Argentina Workers’ Central (CTA) umbrella union led by Hugo Yasky appeared to try to strike a middle-ground yesterday, saying poverty declined one percentage point last year to 17.8 percent, while destitution dropped from 4.5 percent to 4.2 percent — far from both the INDEC statistics bureau and the private consultants.

Even though the CTA figures show a decline in both poverty and destitution in 2013 compared to 2012, there were slight increases in the last quarter of 2014, meaning that 7.6 million people, or 18.2 percent of the population, were considered to be poor at the end of last year.

During the last three months of 2013, 1.8 million people — or 4.4 percent — were classed as destitute.

The poverty figures are almost four times higher than the last official poverty rate of less than five percent reported for the first quarter of 2013 but are lower than the 36.5 percent reported by former INDEC employees earlier this month and than the 27.5 percent reported by the Argentine Catholic University (UCA).

In a move that has raised complaints from economists and opposition politicians, INDEC has yet to release any poverty figures this year following the reformulation of the consumer price index earlier this year.

Poverty would increase in the first quarter of this year as “prices have increased after the devaluation,” according to Yasky, who said now workers are facing “a battle to make business leaders understand increasing prices is not the right path to take.” Even though he acknowledged the figures show “there are some problems in the country,” he said, it’s not the “catastrophe some people want us to believe.”

CTA put together the report using data from the Argentine Centre for Research and Training (CIFRA) and using “the same methology the INDEC statistics bureau had before its intervention,” according to Yasky. “The study was carried out based on data measured in nine provinces.”

The poverty rate was calculated by reconfiguring the value of the food basket, a selection of key household items, which was estimated at 4,000 pesos, far from the 1,783 reported by INDEC last year. The basic food basket, meanwhile, used to measure extreme poverty, was estimated to cost 1,783 pesos by CIFRA, against the INDEC’s 787 pesos.

The CTA highlighted the reduction on poverty over the last decade, going from 49.7 percent in 2003 to the 17.8 reported for 2013, a figure that represent 10 million fewer people under the poverty line. At the same time, destitution registered a steep drop going from 22.8 percent in 2003 to the 4.2 percent reported for 2013.

“The large creation of jobs, the reactivation of wage negotiations, the increase of pension funds and the expansive policies on incomes led to a substantial improvement in people’s quality of life over the last decade,” CTA said in its report. “The poverty rate has sharply decreased over the last ten years, as well as the destitution rates.”

Yasky recognized the difference between the CTA figures and the government’s, while he pointed out that these findings were still “far below” estimates issued by private institutes.

“What’s important here is that the systematic drop in poverty and destitution never stopped,” Yasky said. “We are working to solve the social crisis caused by the policies implemented in the 1990s.”

Lack of data

The barrage of numbers reported by unions and consultancies demonstrates how the absence of reliable official data makes it difficult to determine the real rate of key social indicators and muddying the waters of public discourse on the issue that is critical to figuring out where social spending needs to go.

INDEC, which failed to meet the scheduled publication of its poverty rates because of “severe methodological deficiencies” in adapting its statistics to the revamped, IMF-friendly consumer price index, last published a poverty rate in October 2013, which indicated that 4.7 percent of the country’s more than 40 million people are poor. In the same report, 1.7 percent of citizens, or one-in-70, fell into the category of extreme poverty.

On the other hand, according to UCA, more than 10 million people cannot meet the cost of total food basket, estimated at 4,142 pesos, as 27.5 percent of the population is considered to be below the poverty line. At the same time, 5.5 percent of the country’s population is living below the extreme poverty line as they can’t afford to purchase a basic food basket, priced by the university’s researchers at 1,982 pesos for an average household.

A significantly higher figure was reported by the Institute of Public Policy and Thought (IPyPP), integrated by former INDEC employees, which estimated a walloping poverty rate of 36.5 percent and an extreme poverty rate of 12.1 percent. The basic food basket was set at 3,435 pesos and the total basket of goods reached up to 6,700 pesos for those who have to pay rent.

Herald with DyN,Télam

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