Wednesday, July 17, 2024

ECONOMY | 09-08-2023 10:43

Poverty bites in Greater Buenos Aires, but residents' demands go beyond the economic

Argentina’s economic crisis spares no-one in Greater Buenos Aires. The youngest are the hardest hit. Across the Conurbano, demands are high, but local campaigners say the problems run deeper than soaring prices.

In the run-up to the PASO primaries, the socio-economic situation in Greater Buenos Aires is at a critical stage. Poverty, destitution, unemployment and informal labour indicators in the region’s 24 districts top the nationwide rankings. Yet some of the hopefuls running for municipal council seats assure that the problems raised by residents go way beyond product shortages and never-ending price hikes.

According to data from the INDEC national statistics bureau’s Observatorio del Conurbano Bonaerense, elaborados en base a la Encuesta Permanente de Hogares (“Observatory of Greater Buenos Aires based on the Permanent Household") survey, poverty reached 46 percent in the first quarter of this year, extending to 63.9 percent in those aged under 17. Nationwide these figures were respectively 40.9 percent and 57.8 percent. 

Extreme poverty in those first three months climbed to 11.5 percent as against 9.9 percent nationwide with youth continuing to be the most affected at 15.2 percent.

Meanwhile unemployment climbed to 8.3 percent from 7.8 percent in the final quarter of last year. Women (9.7 percent) and youth below the age of 24 (21 percent) were the most affected. For comparison, unemployment reached 6.9 percent nationwide.

Having a job does not guarantee an escape from poverty in the Conurbano. Many suffer precarious conditions – informal employment now reaches 38.7 percent, up from 35.6 percent in the last quarter of 2022.

According to INDEC, the wages of informal workers only climbed 31.2 percent in the first five months of the year against an accumulated inflation rate of 42.2 percent. 

Over the last 12 months, annualised inflation stands at 114.2 percent. The wages of the non-registered only rose 77.4 percent.

Runaway prices hit the most vulnerable sectors hardest since “within the shopping-baskets of the 40 percent of poor households, food averages 32 percent of consumption while for the other 60 percent of the families with higher incomes this item explains 21 percent of spending,” said the Ecolatina consultancy firm in a recent report.

In this sense, last month’s food prices continued to advance in Greater Buenos Aires, rising 7.68 percent according to data from the ISEPCI (Instituto de Investigación Social, Económica y Política Ciudadana) research institute.

The basic food shopping-basket was evaluated at 110,079 pesos, representing an increase of 7.64 percent from June. So far this year this shopping-basket has increased 71.64 percent (or more than 10 percent monthly) while in the last 12 months it has risen 118.36 percent.

“The expectations for August have not improved with important increases announced for meat (15-30 percent since ‘lagging’ behind inflation), bus fares, petrol and other services adding to the usual inflationary pace,” assured ISEPCI.

At the height of the electoral campaign, the statistics show Greater Buenos Aires to be in intensive therapy while the “doctors” do not seem to find treatment.


Local demands 

Campaigners in the upcoming PASO primaries recognise the impact of rising prices but different municipal council hopefuls assure that when they cover the territory to speak to residents, the economic situation is not the sole focus of demands.

The sociologist Fernando Marín has explained why this happens, even in a critical context. 

“At the local level, people feel that the pesos they contribute are not returned because there are no public works [projects], public services are deficient, there are no police patrol cars and the streets are in a bad state. In other words, they are asking for the economic effort implied in paying local rates to receive something in return,” said Marín.

“Now almost all municipalities are placing security cameras at bus stops so that people can go back to work, trying to resist the poverty in which they are immersed. I would ask the mayors to at least look after that so that they can go to work in peace. Local leadership is constructed on the basis of the efficiency of spending, of delivering and also being able to explain to people what is being done with their taxation,” affirmed the sociologist.

On the other hand, Marín added that people see politics as resolving increasingly less problems so that they tend to ask for more concrete things.

Diego Spina, who heads the list of municipal candidates in Morón for Unión por la Patria, said in an interview that residents “make more local demands on us, many linked to crime-fighting and not to the economic situation.”

He added: “Nevertheless, we are tackling that problem and have opened up a market to make consumer products cheaper. We form part of society and we know how the economy affects people’s lives but it is not a demand which they make on the mayor.”

Ángel Recine, spokesman for the diocese of San Justo and top of the list of municipal candidates backing La Matanza Unión por la Patria mayoral hopeful Patricia Cubría, said: “The concerns of neighbours are very neglected and left to chance. The current municipal government is disconnected and unresponsive. The municipal government has left things very much to one side.”

The current mayor is Peronist Fernando Espinoza, who is seeking re-election in Sunday’s election.

“The issues which they raise mostly involve local infrastructure, not inflation. In La Matanza some homes have no access to running water and there are unpaved roads. There are many shortages and slum neighbourhoods,” assured Recine.

Along these lines, according to the first report on housing conditions from the 2022 census, Greater Buenos Aires is the region with the lowest level of access to drinking water in all the country: 25 percent of inhabited dwellings have no connection to the running water grid.

“Our work is with the neighbours, a job which is never done. What we are transmitting is our desire for approximation between municipal officialdom and the citizenry,” detailed the candidate.

Santiago Ratto, who tops the list of Juntos por el Cambio municipal candidates under Gastón Di Castelnuovo in Ituzaingó, affirmed: "We have proposed local measures in various aspects. We have been working for years in our district to bring solutions and change the lives of our neighbours.” 

“At the beginning of the year, we presented a plan of government analysing the reality of our lives and carrying a series of proposals rotating around security with the aggregate of technology and funding so that the neighbours can calmly walk the streets because without security there is nothing,” he assured.


Sign of the times

Over time, an adverse context has arisen characterised by collective disenchantment and a generalised disbelief in politics, campaigners say.

“The reality is that we have spoken with many neighbours over the last years and the current national government’s lack of credibility these days is very notorious and the same can be said for the candidacies being presented in these elections,” pointed out Ratto.

“The people want change but also call on the politicians to stop talking about politics and involve themselves fully in bringing solutions to the problems which have taken us to where we are today,” he added.

Florencia Retamoso, an Almirante Brown mayoral hopeful for Juntos por el Cambio, considered: “Activism in this adverse economic context is difficult. You have to transmit hope of change and show austerity above all else, with simple campaigns and creative proposals. It is necessary to listen and empathise with what is happening to other people, speaking the truth and transmitting that they can live better with order and a strong leadership taking the necessary decisions to change the destinies of the nation, the province [of Buenos Aires] and Almirante Brown.”

Along the same lines and consulted as to how the economy affects the electoral campaign in the territory, Spina said: “There is a continuity in the difficulties of the people to be able to live better and more than the economic situation, what affects them is disenchantment and the disbelief of society in politics and leadership in general. That makes for a campaign with a bit more apathy without an electoral atmosphere.” 

Spina continued: “After 40 years of democracy there are many things which the democratic representation of political parties have not been able to sort out in Argentina. There is still a crisis of representation and not just in the last decade but going many years back. It must be a responsibility of the political parties to work towards reconstructing the value of the public sector, political debate and the word democracy.”

“We political parties have the obligation to recreate public debate and recover the confidence of society in politics because it is the only tool in existence to change people’s lives. Neither meritocracy nor the market nor anarchy can resolve the lives of people in a community,” added the Morón hopeful.

“I believe that although the people are annoyed, societies do not commit suicide. I cannot imagine a country being governed by Patricia Bullrich, or Javier Milei or by Horacio Rodríguez Larreta,” he added.

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Ludmila Di Grande

Ludmila Di Grande


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