In Argentina, monetary poverty mirrors the ups and downs of the economy, but child poverty ranges between higher levels than general poverty. Since 1980, the country has gone through 10 recessions. Since 1988, child monetary poverty has been 50% on average, with 30% minimum and 77% maximum. The effect of the pandemic on income accelerated poverty’s rise and, in the first semester of 2021, it affected 55% of children and adolescents, while extreme poverty affected 17% of them (7.2 and 2.2 million, respectively).
On the contrary, non-monetary deprivations (i.e. deficiencies in education, social protection, housing, sanitation, water and habitat) register a soft and downward trend. From 70% of children and adolescents that registered a deficit in at least one dimension in 2004, it reduced to 44% in 2021 (5.8 million). For severe deprivations, it went from more than 50% to 15% (2 million). Despite this undeniable and satisfactory progress, much remains to be done.
Averages sometimes hide differences between certain groups. Related to labor insertion, it is not only important to have a job but also its quality: the probability that a child or adolescent is poor is twice as high if their mother or father works informally than if they do so formally. Additionally, the education of adults in the household reveals variance and is closely related to poverty.
The crisis unleashed by the pandemic hit households that were already suffering from previous economic downturns. The poverty rate for people in households with children and adolescents reached high levels: it affected 58.5% of them in the second quarter of 2020. However, it should be noted that this group behaved similar to the average, although starting from higher poverty levels. Households with female heads have higher poverty rates than those with male heads. At the beginning of the pandemic, the former were most affected, bringing the difference between the two to 8.2 percentage points.
During the pandemic, non-labor income played a central role. Without considering these incomes, poverty in households with children and adolescents (which are the target of most of cash transfer programs) would have been markedly higher. The greatest impact is observed in extreme poverty rates, and in particular among children and adolescents, where it is estimated that it would have been 13.6 percentage points higher.
The increase in poverty was largely associated with the reduction in employment. The sanitary measures affected various tasks carried out by independent workers, who had to interrupt their activities, and many people with unregistered salaried jobs were in fact fired by their employers due to the difficulty in maintaining the activity or facing falling demand. Formal salaried occupations could be maintained at a higher degree, as companies were able to resort to different alternatives (such as home-based work, suspensions, public subsidies and reduction or exemption of social security contributions).
Employment reversed its behavior in the second part of 2020, led by more informal jobs; it expanded more in poor households. However, it failed to compensate for its initial decline: the occupation rate at the end of 2020 was 5% lower than a year ago, with a greater difference among poor households.
Connectivity gained weight during the pandemic. In 2020 and after the emergence of COVID, around 5 million children and adolescents in urban Argentina -37% of the national total- lacked computers at home. But those who do not use the internet are fewer: 1.6 million, around 13% of all children and adolescents. Before, the percentages were much lower. Lack of connectivity undermines children’s potential to be successful in school, work and life in an increasingly digital world.
What could be done? Income transfer programs work: poverty, and especially extreme poverty, would be higher without them. However, eradicating monetary poverty would require greater economic growth and that the increase in the prices of essential goods does not exceed the income updates of the most vulnerable. It is estimated that achieving single-digit levels of child poverty would require a GDP increase of at least 3% in real terms per year for 15 years. Non-monetary deprivations show a downward trend that it would be good to consolidate in the future. This progress needs to be accelerated, which is not easy in a context of low growth and significant fiscal constraints.