Former government official calls Argentina’s poverty rate ‘poorly measured’

Former Secretary of Domestic Trade, Guillermo Moreno, said "many families" slipped into poverty under former President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, above. (Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina/Flickr)

Argentina’s former secretary of domestic trade this week publicly expressed doubt over the validity of the 32 percent poverty rate released last fall by the government’s statistics agency.

On a radio program Tuesday, Guillermo Moreno discussed figures released in September by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, or INDEC), which revealed a poverty rate four times that of the unemployment rate (7.6 percent).

If these figures were accurate, he said, they “would also indicate that social policies are of no use” and that “the historic relationship between unemployment rate and poverty had been broken,” because “there was no structural change in the economy that would have created four times more poverty than unemployment.”

Argentina’s poverty rate has been fuzzy for years. Before September’s report, INDEC had not released poverty figures since 2013, following widespread allegations of its manipulation under former leftist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Kirchner’s critics say her political party tried to downplay the figures, pointing out that her government had a tendency to try to prosecute economists who released numbers privately. In 2015, her last year in office, Kirchner famously said Argentina had less poverty than Norway or Denmark – “below 5 percent.”

Without reliable government data, El Pais reported that the country’s current President Mauricio Macri had been citing poverty statistics from researchers at the Catholic University of Argentina (Universidad Católica de Argentina, UCA), which said the poverty rate had reached 32.6 percent as of April last year.

Macri’s critics point out that the figure had surged from 29 percent (according to UCA) just the previous year. Many blame the increase on the president’s decisions to lift currency controls, cut utility subsidies and reduce agricultural export taxes.

Macri campaigned on promises to revive the country’s economy with market-oriented policies and to eliminate poverty in the South American nation.

But Moreno, who worked under the Kirchner administration, admitted that many Argentinians slipped into poverty long before Macri took office.

“We left tons of poor people, many families, 6 percent poverty is 2,400,000 of our fellow citizens, 600,000 families,” said Moreno on the radio show. “Why do some think this is little poverty?”

Since 1980, the number of people living in extreme poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped by two-thirds, according to the World Bank. Experts say it’s likely Argentina’s poverty rate has dropped since then, too; as Bloomberg reported, almost half the country was poor before President Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003.

INDEC defines the poverty line as whether a household has enough income to afford the food it needs, as well as nonfood goods considered essential – which, in Argentina, roughly translates to USD $800 for a family of four.

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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