Colombia Making Progress in Fight Against Extreme Poverty but Still Lags Behind Latin American Peers
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 32.1% of the total population in the region lives in poor conditions, which equals 201 million people. 82 million of this percentage (13.1%) lives in extremely poor conditions, which situation becomes a silent crisis for the body.
In a “statistical yearbook” released earlier this year CEPAL published the improvements in terms of the sociodemographic, economic and environmental development of the nations that form the region, one of them being Colombia. In the analysis, the organization considered topics such as population, work, education, health, housing, and essential services along with poverty.
Unfortunately, Colombia did not have the best results in several of these areas, which reflects the great political, social, and economic problems that the national territory is experiencing. In this sense, one of the main affected areas is the cost of living, as evidenced by the high poverty and extreme poverty rates, which increased, mainly, after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the social field, the yearbook data shows a slight recovery in some indicators after the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated the report. “In 2021, poverty in Latin America reached 32.3% of the population, including 12.9% of the population that lives under extreme poverty. These statistics represent a slight drop of 0.5% in poverty and 0.2% in extreme poverty compared to the previous year.”
According to the report, Colombia ranks fourth among studied countries in the region with the highest percentage of people living in conditions of extreme poverty (15%), only surpassed by Honduras (20%), Nicaragua (18.3%), and Guatemala (15.4%). Likewise, it would be fifth in terms of having the most inhabitants living in poverty.
However, this is not the whole picture, since the nation also ranked fifth in terms of the highest unemployment rate, with 13.4% of the population out of work. Although it is stated that 54% of Colombians are employed, the percentage is still below the employability average of the region.
How does this compare to the official numbers of the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE)?
In a report presented in May of this year, the body highlighted that the poverty indicator had decreased to historic lows, 12.9% at the national level, compared to 16% registered in 2021. Likewise, it decreased at 8.7% in the capitals and 27.3% in populated centers and dispersed rural areas.
“The changes that took place between 2021 and 2022 in the incidence of multidimensional poverty were -3.1 percentage points at the national level, -2.8 percentage points in the capitals, and -3.8 percentage points in populated centers and dispersed rural areas,” stated the agency’s analysis.
Specifically, during 2022, there was a reduction of 1.4 million people living in poverty. However, there are still 6.6 million people who live in poor conditions with all kinds of serious material deprivation, as well as the deprivation of basic rights such as health or work.
Regarding the incidence of multidimensional poverty in the regions, the highest levels occur in the Caribbean and Pacific (except Valle del Cauca), with 21.4% and 20.7%, respectively. The Central region is in third place (11.7%), whereas the lowest percentage is seen in Bogotá (3.8%), followed by Valle del Cauca (9.7%), and the Eastern and Antioquia regions (10.7%).
Finally, regarding the incidence of multidimensional poverty according to the gender of the head of household, in 2022, 14.1% of the people who belonged to a household where the head of household was female were multidimensionally poor, decreasing 3.5 percentage points with respect to 2021.
On the other side, 12.0% of the people who belonged to households headed by men faced multidimensionally poverty in 2022, 2.7% less than in 2021. “The incidence of multidimensional poverty is higher in homes whose head of household is a woman,” said DANE in its report.
It should be noted that, at the beginning of 2023, the national government launched a new program to help the most vulnerable households that are below the poverty line. It is called Renta Ciudadana (Citizen Income), which aims to provide enough money “to fight hunger, progressively achieve economic autonomy and access the enjoyment of fundamental rights,” according to the Colombian Department of Social Prosperity.
The first payment was made between April 29 and May 30, while the second payment is made beginning in last days of July. It should be noted that the government clarified that the transfer will be made every two months and that those who need it most will be able to receive up to 1,000,000 Colombian pesos.
The Other Reality
Whereas more than 6 million Colombians must seek how to survive in this country on a daily basis, others live a totally different and more favorable reality. We are talking about politicians, who currently enjoy salaries that could change the lives of more than one person.
In June of this year, after six months in office, Gustavo Petro, President of the Republic, signed the decrees to formalize an increase in the salary of public officials by 14.62%. This includes people who provide services to the country, from ministers, counselors and cabinet members, to lower-ranking employees linked to the state.
Besides, among the benefited by this increase, are both the president and the vice president Francia Márquez. In this context, in accordance with Decree 904 of 2023, the new annual salary of the president is 47,823,220 pesos and the vice president earns 32,561,343 pesos.
Regarding the ministers’ fees of the 18 portfolios that make up the executive power, it will be 24,238,746 pesos. Additionally, at the end of last year, Petro also announced a 7.26% increase in the salaries of senators and representatives, reaching 37.8 million pesos.
If we compare the normal salary of an ordinary citizen with that of a politician, an abysmal difference can be seen, since currently the minimum wage is 1,160,000 pesos, plus the 140,000 pesos for transportation assistance, bringing the monthly total to 1,300,000 pesos. All this without counting the millions of workers who live in the informal sector or those who earn much less than a monthly minimum wage, who usually subsist on debt and resorting to personal loans.
This panorama is a reflection of the inequality that exists in the country and that, sadly, is repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, in other nations of the region, since every day there are many individuals who must find ways to survive the poverty that surrounds them and their family.