Costa Rica still steadily lifting people out of poverty

Elementary school children in Costa Rica, which has one of the best education systems in Latin America. (Terry Feuerborn/Flickr)

Here’s some good news from 2016: Costa Rica is still steadily reducing its poverty rate, bolstering its economy and its reputation as one of the best development success stories in Latin America.

By international poverty standards (less than $1.90 USD a day), Costa Rica has dropped from over 11 percent in the 1990s to just under 2 percent today, according to World Bank data. When compared to poverty trends across the rest of the region, Costa Rica has become something of a model.

Some experts have attributed the country’s success to reduced inflation and benefits granted by government subsidies, as well as steady economic growth overall in the past 25 years. According to the World Bank, the country’s outward-oriented growth – based on openness to foreign investment such as the entry of Intel in the mid-1990s – has played a big role.

But Costa Rica’s economy is only part of the story. The millions who have risen out of poverty since the 1990s would not have been able to do so without coordinated work by government agencies, which have consistently supported job creation and improved the business environment, said Franco Pacheco, chamber president of the Costa Rican Union of Private Sector Chambers and Associations, in a Tico Times report. Costa Rica ranks higher than neighboring countries in terms of health and social capital, is the only tropical country in the world to have reversed deforestation, and has one of the best education systems in Latin America.

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Costa Rica’s politicians are also eager to tout the country’s commitments to ensuring personal freedoms, particularly human rights, according to Vice President of Costa Rica and Coordinator of the Presidential Social Council Ana Helena Chacón.

“We will continue to work harder, under the conviction that it is possible to move the needle toward equality and social inclusion,” Chacón told the Panama Post.

Like most countries, however, Costa Rica has a lot of work to do if it is to meet the United Nation’s ambitious goal of ending all forms of social exclusion and to promote inclusive development by the year 2030. The average income for the wealthiest households in Costa Rica is still almost 13 times higher than low-income households, according to recent data from the National Statistics and Census Institute, underlining a concerning degree of inequality.

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To combat this, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) representative in Costa Rica, Alice Shackelford, has stressed the importance of prioritizing excluded groups such as indigenous people, Afro-descendants, LGBT, the disabled and migrants, according to a Costa Rica Star report. She has given particular emphasis to women in Costa Rica, where 43.5 percent of poor households are headed by women.

“It is essential to include the human dimension,” Shackelford said at the U.N. General Assembly in September, “and meet every family and every person living in poverty, to identify the characteristics and experiences they share, and thus understand how they perceive access opportunities and programs for this population.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com