BUENOS AIRES – A combination of recession and worsening inflation pushed the proportion of Argentines living below the poverty line to 32 percent in the second half of 2018, the Indec statistics agency said in a report released on Thursday.
The incidence of poverty in urban areas climbed by 4.7 percentage points between June 30 and Dec. 31 and ended the year 6.3 points higher than in December 2017.
“Poverty hurts, clearly. Today is a sad day, as was yesterday, as it was a year ago, because regrettably, poverty has been high in Argentina for many years,” Social Development Secretary Carolina Stanley told a press conference following the publication of the report.
She said that the government of President Mauricio Macri, who took office in December 2015 with a pledge to eliminate poverty, is working “everyday to reverse this situation.”
“But today, more than ever, you have my commitment and that of our entire government that we will keep working to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of all Argentines,” the minister said.
The increase in poverty in the second half of 2018 went hand-in-hand with a surge in the cost of living.
Inflation reached 47.6 percent by the end of 2018, the highest rate in 27 years, even as gross domestic product shrank 2.5 percent due to the crisis spurred by last spring’s collapse in the value of the peso.
Economy activity in the first two months of 2019 fell 5.7 percent compared with the same period last year and inflation shows no sign of abating.
Joining Stanley at the press conference was the minister of Industry and Labor, Dante Sica, who defended the conservative government’s approach to the economy.
The course adopted by Macri “will allow us to generate a recovery, with growth that is much more solid and stable,” Sica said.
Macri, who is seeking another term in the October election, sounded the same note on Wednesday, telling reporters that his government was “on the right path.”
The release of the Indec report coincided with a protest in Buenos Aires by some of the people hit hardest by inflation: retirees.
Pensioners gathered in the center of the capital for “the march of the stools,” which saw many of the participants bring chairs to accommodate those among the elderly protesters who were unable to stand for hours on end.
The office of Argentina’s ombud for senior citizens calculates the cost of living for a typical retiree at roughly $597 a month, while some pensioners receive monthly payments of as little as $239.
“Sometimes our children come with a little bag of groceries and they put it in the refrigerator without saying anything,” 74-year-old Antonio Vicente Pascua told EFE.
The lawyer for the pensioners union, Christian D’Alessandro, said that while the lot of retirees in Argentina has traditionally been bad, they are even worse off now with the disappearance under the Macri government of benefits they used to have, such as free prescription drugs and subsidized utility rates.
Cancer patient Ana Maria Volpi, 75, said she has been unable to afford treatment since last October.
“I have to sit down and wait for death,” she told EFE.
Prices of medication increased 257 percent between May 2015 and last month, according to the Center for Argentine Political Economy, while charges for some essential drugs are more than 560 percent higher.
The minimum pension payment has been boosted by 172 percent over the same period.
Pascua, who paid into the retirement system for 43 years, complained that much of his income is eaten up by consumption taxes.
“One is always giving up something, not adding anything. Obviously, we don’t even talk about going out for ice cream,” he said.
Volpi said that she could no longer afford even to buy a candy bar for her grandson.
“I thought I would have a tranquil old age ... but no,” she said.