By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Jun 22 (EFE).- Marcos Lucero looks down at his feet as he walks the few meters that separate his home in the Argentine capital’s low-income Zavaleta neighborhood from the Bienestar soup kitchen.
A workplace accident forced him to request early retirement, although the financial payout he received amid Argentina’s economic crisis and galloping inflation has proved insufficient to cover his basic expenses.
“When I was working, I could get by. But now it’s not even enough for anything special for my family. If you have to incur any extra expense, you don’t have enough to get through the month,” Lucero told Efe. “If I have to buy medicine, I don’t eat. Life is very expensive here.”
Lucero’s situation is typical of the more than 10 million people unable to escape structural poverty in Argentina, a country of 47 million inhabitants where the economic recovery hasn’t reached the lower strata of society.
Around 37.3 percent of the population is now under the poverty line, according to the latest official figures, while the Catholic University of Argentina’s Social Debt Observatory (ODSA-UCA) puts that figure at 43.8 percent.
For most residents of Zavaleta, a rebounding economy that grew 10.3 percent in 2021 after plunging 9.9 percent the year before has had no appreciable positive impact on their quality of life.
Despite the better macroeconomic performance, an increasing number of people are showing up at Bienestar, a soup kitchen established three years ago by the organization Barrios de Pie – Libres del Sur.
Its diners range from children and adolescents to unemployed parents and retirees like Lucero who cannot afford the cost of a hot meal.
“Now a lot more kids and older people are coming, so sometimes (there aren’t enough meals) … We’re going to have to ration because there are a lot of people,” said one of the employees of the establishment, Angie Salazar.
Structural poverty, a phenomenon that was first observed in Argentine in the 1990s, when radical deregulation, liberalization and privatization initiatives were carried out, and has grown steadily since then, has a particularly devastating impact on people’s nutrition.
According to the ODSA-UCA, 26 percent of Argentines overall and 57 percent of people in the country’s lower socioeconomic strata suffer from severe food insecurity.
Juan Ignacio Bonfiglio, a sociologist and researcher at the observatory, says these figures confirm the existence of a form of poverty in which people not only earn income that is below a certain level but have more permanent limitations such as limited access to public services and medicine and poor quality housing.
The structural privations go hand-in-hand with a sky-high annual inflation rate that soared to 60.7 percent in May, its highest level in 30 years, a problem exacerbated by the global impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Food prices have climbed sharply – up 33.7 percent in the first five months of 2022 – and exacted a particularly high toll on low-income people.
“People have less money to spend, they don’t want to buy anything. Sometimes they tell you, ‘no, I have to save it for food.’ Sales are really low,” Blanca Jimenez, a Zavaleta resident who works as a seller of second-hand clothing on weekends, told Efe.
The gap between the lower socioeconomic strata and the rest of the population has widened despite significant welfare assistance, with social-aid programs reaching 44.7 percent of Argentines last year, according to ODSA-UCA estimates.
The withdrawal of those programs would cause the proportion of the population in extreme poverty to rise from 9 percent to 19 percent, according to the observatory.
Even so, Bonfiglio says this type of assistance has its limits.
“Another type of economic growth must be generated, with investment in human capital, in social capital, in urban development,” the expert said. “This implies state policies and much broader consensuses that what exist at the moment.”