By Veronica Dalto
Buenos Aires, Oct 6 (EFE).- Though nearly half of Argentina’s population is receiving some kind of public assistance as the economy endures a fourth year of recession, officials and activists are increasingly focused on expanding employment as the long-term answer to growing poverty.
“I would prefer that instead of counting on a payment, people count on a job,” popular singer L-Gante said last Sunday during an encounter with President Alberto Fernandez.
The center-left administrations that have been in power for most of the last two decades launched an array of social programs to address the consequences of the depression of 1998-2002, when the Argentine economy shrank by a fifth, pushing the poverty and unemployment rates above 50 percent.
But that safety net, never perfect, has been strained by the slump due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am in a work situation that is a little difficult because I work off the books and given the situation in Argentina, one has to take what comes,” Carlos Irala, 32, tells Efe, recounting stints as a bricklayer and painter.
While ready to acknowledge that the government is trying to help people via social programs, he says that “stable employment would be better.”
The proportion of Argentine’s on public assistance has climbed from 33 percent in 2010 to 454 percent currently, yet formal employment has stagnated in real terms over the same period, according to Agustin Salvia, a researcher at Universidad Catolica Argentina.
Those figures demonstrate the “impossibility” for the 30 percent of people who work in the underground economy to secure formal jobs, he told Efe.
Organizations of beneficiaries of social programs have mobilized their members to provide socially necessary services in areas such as care work, sanitation and upkeep of public infrastructure, but those positions do not meet the legal criteria for formal employment.
The social movements are largely in agreement on a proposal to “establish a universal income based on a contribution of labor and as a bridge to a formal job with state support,” Daniel Arroyo, a former minister of Social Development in the Fernandez government, tells Efe.
The problem, he says, is that the government can’t afford such an ambitious plan at the moment.
Fernandez, meanwhile, wants recipients of assistance who are working in the framework of those programs to have the option to be hired formally without losing their benefits. EFE vd/dr