Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class

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After decades of stagnation, the size of Latin America's middle class recently expanded to the point where, for the first time ever, the number of people in poverty is equal to the size of the middle class. This volume investigates the nature, determinants and possible consequences of this remarkable process of social transformation. We propose an original definition of the middle class, tailor-made for Latin America, centered on the concept of economic security and thus a low probability of falling into poverty. Given our definition of the middle class, there are four, not three, classes in Latin America. Sandwiched between the poor and the middle class there lies a large group of people who appear to make ends meet well enough, but do not enjoy the economic security that would be required for membership of the middle class. We call this group the 'vulnerable'. In an almost mechanical sense, these transformations in Latin America reflect both economic growth and declining inequality in over the period. We adopt a measure of mobility that decomposes the 'gainers' and 'losers' in society by social class of each household. The continent has experienced a large amount of churning over the last 15 years, at least 43% of all Latin Americans changed social classes between the mid 1990s and the end of the 2000s. Despite the upward mobility trend, intergenerational mobility, a better proxy for inequality of opportunity, remains stagnant. Educational achievement and attainment remain to be strongly dependent upon parental education levels. Despite the recent growth in pro-poor programs, the middle class has benefited disproportionally from social security transfers and are increasingly opting out from government services. Central to the region's prospects of continued progress will be its ability to harness the new middle class into a new, more inclusive social contract, where the better-off pay their fair share of taxes, and demand improved public services.
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Additional Information

Publisher
World Bank Publications
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Published on
Nov 9, 2012
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Pages
200
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ISBN
9780821397237
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Social Science / Social Classes
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Content Protection
This content is DRM free.
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Renos Vakis
One out of every five Latin Americans or around 130 million people have never known anything but poverty, subsisting on less than US$4-a-day throughout their lives. These are the region ́s chronically poor, who have remained so despite unprecedented inroads against poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean since the turn of the century. Left Behind: Chronic Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean takes a closer look at the region’s entrenched poor, who and where they are, and how existing policies need to change in order to effectively assist them. The book shows significant variations of rates of chronic poverty both across and within countries. Within a single country, some regions show incidence rates up to eight times higher than the lowest. Despite the higher rates of chronic poverty in rural areas, chronic poverty is as much an urban as a rural issue. In fact, considering absolute numbers, urban areas in many countries, including Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, have more chronic poor than rural areas. Undoubtedly the region has come a long way during the decade in terms of poverty reduction, guided by a mix of sustained growth and increased levels in amounts and quality of public spending and programs targeted directly or indirectly to the chronic poor. While improving endowments and the context where the chronic poor live is a necessary condition going forward, the decade’s experience suggests that it may not be enough to reach the chronic poor. The book posits that refinements to the existing policy toolkit †“ as opposed to more programs †“ may come a long way in helping the remaining poor. These refinements include intensifying efforts to improve coordination between different social and economic programs, which can boost the income generation process and deal with the intergenerational transmission of chronic poverty by investing in early childhood development. Equally important though, there is an urgent need to adapt programs to directly address the psychological toll of chronic poverty on people’s mindset and aspirations, which currently undermines the effectiveness of the existing policy efforts.
Daniel Lederman
Markus Frölich
Most countries implement social protection programs to help individuals manage risks such as unemployment, disability, illness, longevity or death. In many middle income countries, these are often based on a 'Bismarckian model' (named after Otto von Bismarck), where benefits are financed by contributions levied on salaried employment. In countries with a large informal sector, however, only a fraction of the population is covered by this system and non-contributory programs have been added or are planned to increase coverage. This can create distortions in the labor market, and the book is about policies to expand the coverage of social insurance programs to all workers, without reducing incentives to job creation and formal work. While few would argue against the need and social merits of social insurance and social assistance programs there are growing concerns about their unintended consequences on labor markets because of poor design. The programs can distort incentives and individual behaviors in ways that either reduce employment levels and/or promote informality, ultimately affecting productivity and economic performance. For instance, high social security contribution rates can reduce formal employment; badly designed unemployment benefits can reduce incentives to keep, search, and take jobs; and fragmented social assistance programs can become a tax on formal labor and encourage informality. The book reviews the evidence regarding the effects of social insurance and social assistance programs on labor market outcomes and discusses options to improve their design and implementation. The book focuses particularly on middle income countries in Latin America and Asia with a large informal sector and suggests ways to reduce these distortions and better manage and finance the subsidies to make coverage universal, while creating good jobs. The book compiles expert papers from the joint conferences of the World Bank (WB), the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on Employment and Development.
Francisco H. G. Ferreira
Tras décadas de estancamiento, la población de clase media en América Latina y el Caribe ha aumentado en un 50%—de aproximadamente 100 millones de personas en 2003 a 150 millones (o un 30% de la población del continente) en 2009. Durante este periodo, el porcentaje de la población pobre disminuyó notablemente, del 44% al 30%. _La movilidad económica y el crecimiento de la clase media en América Latina_ analiza la naturaleza, los determinantes y las posibles consecuencias de este notable proceso de transformación social. Los autores proponen una original definición de la clase media, hecha a la medida de América Latina y centrada en el concepto de seguridad económica. Según esta definición, el grupo social más grande de la región actualmente no son ni los pobres ni la clase media, sino un estrato de personas vulnerables situadas entre el umbral de la pobreza y los requisitos mínimos para disfrutar de un modo de vida más seguro, propio de la clase media. El auge de la clase media refleja los cambios recientes en la movilidad económica. La movilidad intergeneracional—un concepto contrario a la desigualdad de oportunidades—ha mejorado ligeramente pero sigue siendo muy limitada. Tanto el nivel educativo como los logros educativos siguen siendo sumamente dependientes del nivel de escolarización de los padres. Sin embargo, se ha producido un aumento real de la movilidad de los ingresos. En los últimos 15 años, al menos el 43% de los habitantes de América Latina ha cambiado de clase social, en la mayoría de los casos en un sentido ascendente. Los autores sostienen que hay numerosos beneficios potenciales en el auge de esta clase media, si bien advierten que la materialización de esos beneficios depende en gran medida de que los países consigan anclar la clase media en torno a un nuevo contrato social, más cohesivo, que ponga de relieve la necesidad de incluir a todos aquellos que han quedado rezagados. _La movilidad económica y el crecimiento de la clase media en América Latina_ despertará un gran interés entre los responsables de las políticas en América Latina y en otras regiones, entre los funcionarios de las instituciones multilaterales y entre estudiantes y docentes de economía, políticas públicas y ciencias sociales.
Renos Vakis
One out of every five Latin Americans or around 130 million people have never known anything but poverty, subsisting on less than US$4-a-day throughout their lives. These are the region ́s chronically poor, who have remained so despite unprecedented inroads against poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean since the turn of the century. Left Behind: Chronic Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean takes a closer look at the region’s entrenched poor, who and where they are, and how existing policies need to change in order to effectively assist them. The book shows significant variations of rates of chronic poverty both across and within countries. Within a single country, some regions show incidence rates up to eight times higher than the lowest. Despite the higher rates of chronic poverty in rural areas, chronic poverty is as much an urban as a rural issue. In fact, considering absolute numbers, urban areas in many countries, including Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, have more chronic poor than rural areas. Undoubtedly the region has come a long way during the decade in terms of poverty reduction, guided by a mix of sustained growth and increased levels in amounts and quality of public spending and programs targeted directly or indirectly to the chronic poor. While improving endowments and the context where the chronic poor live is a necessary condition going forward, the decade’s experience suggests that it may not be enough to reach the chronic poor. The book posits that refinements to the existing policy toolkit †“ as opposed to more programs †“ may come a long way in helping the remaining poor. These refinements include intensifying efforts to improve coordination between different social and economic programs, which can boost the income generation process and deal with the intergenerational transmission of chronic poverty by investing in early childhood development. Equally important though, there is an urgent need to adapt programs to directly address the psychological toll of chronic poverty on people’s mindset and aspirations, which currently undermines the effectiveness of the existing policy efforts.
Daniel Lederman
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