SANTIAGO, Chile – The number of people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped to its lowest level in three decades due to higher wages, the UN's regional economic body said on Tuesday.
Despite lower poverty levels overall, 167 million people in the region are still considered poor. That's one million fewer than in 2011, and it represents about 29 percent of the region's population. Of those, 66 million people remain stuck in extreme poverty, the same as last year.
"Current poverty and indigence rates are the lowest for three decades, and this is good news, but we are still facing unacceptable levels in many countries," Alicia Barcena, head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told reporters in Santiago.
"The challenge is to generate quality jobs as part of a development model based on equality and environmental sustainability," she said.
Latin American countries that experienced some of the biggest reductions in poverty levels include Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Panama. The main reasons for the overall drop in poverty in the region are an increase in wages and more jobs, according to the Social Panorama of Latin America 2012 report.
"Among the different sources of household income, labor income contributed the most to changing income levels in poor households," the report said.
Women and children are especially vulnerable to poverty in Latin America. Underage minors make up 51 percent of those living under extreme poverty.
"Poverty has the face of a child in Latin America," Barcena said.
The report also found that the last decade has seen reduced inequality in income distribution, although the issue remains one of the region's main challenges.
The most recent available statistics for 18 countries indicate that, on average, the richest 10 percent of Latin America's population receives 32 percent of total income, while the poorest 40 percent receives 15 percent of total income, making it one of the world's most unequal regions.