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ECONOMY | 04-07-2024 13:09

Argentina's social indicators cast doubt over Milei's 'catastrophe' averted claim

President Javier Milei recently stated that the government’s social policy is “extremely good” and it had help prevent a “catastrophe.” Yet the government's own data and reports produced by private institutions indicate most social indicators have recorded a step backwards since he took office.

In a recent radio interview, President Javier Milei said that the world has acknowledged the “monumental” and "historic" task his administration faced in lowering inflation while introducing a steep fiscal adjustment. 

Milei argued that his government's social policy has been extremely good, because, "If we hadn’t acted properly, it would have been a catastrophe."

Late last month, however, two key measurements offered not very encouraging signs: unemployment has risen to 7.7 percent and the Gini coefficient, which measures the gap between those who have the most and the least, recorded the highest inequality reading since 2016, when the INDEC national statistics bureau started measuring it again. The latter indicated a major leap in inequity: on a scale of 0 (absolute equality) to 1 (absolute inequality), Argentina went from 0.435 in the fourth quarter of 2023 to 0.467 in the first quarter of 2024.

The information calls into question President Milei's claims about avoiding a "catastrophe." 

Meanwhile, Argentina's SIEMPRO (Sistema de Información, Evaluación y Monitoreo de Programas Sociales) government monitoring system is preparing its latest quarterly report that tracks the evolution of indicators including the job market, poverty and destitution, social security, education and access to healthcare.

Backward steps can be observed in all these indicators, both in statistics and budgetary items allocated to solve the main problems.

 

Job market

SIEMPRO’s latest report for May shows the preceding unemployment rate to date, which was 5.7 percent in the last two quarters of 2023. INDEC data disseminated last week showed a rise to 7.7 percent for the first quarter of 2024.

A CEPA political economy think tank report on official data pointed out that increased unemployment “resulted from the destruction of some 77,000 jobs compared to the first quarter of 2023, with a loss of 404,000 jobs compared to the immediately previous quarter."

Meanwhile, "the economically active population increased from the same quarter last year by 37,000, thus giving rise to an increase in the absolute number of unemployed people year-to-year by 114,000," it added.

The unemployment rate in the first quarter of this year, CEPA observed, is the highest for a first quarter in the post-pandemic era.

The latest SIEMPRO report analyses, within this indicator, the evolution of the minimum wage: purchasing power fell 29.3 percent in April 2024 from the same month in 2023.

 

Poverty

INDEC's next poverty report will be published on September 26. Its most recent measurement, dating back to the second half of 2023, indicated a rate of 41.7 percent of the population, with 11.9 percent considered destitute.

Private studies for the start of 2024 show far greater numbers of people living in poverty and extreme poverty.

In the first quarter of the year, according to estimates by the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) Social Debt Observatory and the Cáritas NGO, more than half of the population is now poor, with some projecting as high as 55 percent. More than 15 percent of Argentines are considered destitute.

These figures would mean approximately 24 million people are living in poverty, with more than eight million in extreme poverty.

 

Social security

Indicators from the SIEMPRO monitoring system on social security track welfare such as the evolution of pensions and child benefit allowance.

For the latter, SIEMPRO published in May that the overall value of child benefit payments rose by 20,661 pesos in December 2023 to 33,058 pesos in January 2024 and to 42,043 pesos in March, by April 2024. However, “purchasing power of the child benefit [allowance] had a minus 5.8-percent variation from the same month last year.” Over the last 24 months, the fall was 18.9 percent.

As for pensions, the report stated by April 2024 that the purchasing power of the minimum pension had fallen by 49.3 percent year-on-year.

Pensions account for roughly three out of every ten pesos saved by the government in achieving its fiscal surplus in the first quarter of the year. 

 

Education

In the third quarter of 2023, according to UCA, 23 percent of children aged three to five did not attend formal educational institutions, while 9.1 percent of children aged six to twelve were attending primary school at an older age. The university said 35.3 percent of youths aged 18 to 29 had dropped out of secondary school and not completed their studies.

According to a report published in June by UCA's observatory, “these indicators show adverse values even though the overall public administration system (80.7 percent of students aged 18 and under) is strengthened by private action (12.6 percent in private lay institutions and 6.8 percent in religious institutions)."

Social policy implemented can also be measured by the national government's open budget data: as of June 28, or in the first half of the year, the Milei administration had used 0.27 percent of the budget of the Education Quality Improvement programme and 9.5 percent of the funds for building improvements of nursery schools.

 

Healthcare

According to the latest SIEMPRO report, moving into the fourth quarter of 2023, 32 percent of the population was covered exclusively by the public healthcare system.

The document highlights large disparities by income level. “After breaking down family income per capita by decile, 73.5 percent of people in the first decile are observed to be exclusively covered by the public system. This percentage dwindles when considering higher-income deciles.”

The budget of a programme dedicated to the 'Strengthening of the Public Healthcare System’s Capacity' was reduced from 2.638 billion pesos to 1.915 billion pesos this year. Only 5.33 percent of funds had been used by the end of June 28.

Out of the Health Ministry’s 29 government programmes, 20 recorded a fall in their assigned budget from the allocated budget set at the start of the year (which was the same as in 2023).

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Agustina Bordigoni

Agustina Bordigoni

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