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Venezuela's poverty rate: task accomplished as ordered

From | VenEconomy

20.10.05 | At the beginning of this year, the National Statistics Institute (INE) reported that poverty in the country had risen by 9.2 percentage points during the six years of the Chávez administration, despite the huge amounts invested in social programs. The INE reported that the poverty index at the close of 2004 was 53% compared to 42.8% in the first semester of 1999, when Chávez took office.

Now, prodded by a dressing down from the President as a result of the announcement of these figures and after being ordered by him to change the method of measurement, it has been announced that, at the close of the first semester of 2005, poverty was 39.5%, i.e. 4.3 points lower than in 1999 and 14.5 points less than at the close of 2004; an extraordinary feat. Unfortunately this achievement is not due to an improvement in Venezuelans’ quality of life but reflects a “mere” change in methodology.

Besides income, measurements of poverty traditionally include parameters that reflect the quality of life, such as type of housing and access to basic services, health, and education.

The figures now being presented by the INE measure poverty based solely on the income level of households. According to statements to the press by the INE’s president, Elías Eljuri, these figures reflect the growth of the economy and employment and improvements in wage levels.

It is hardly surprising that these figures show a “reduction” in the poverty and extreme poverty indicators, since, at the start of the year, Datos Information Resources reported that the average income for Class E of the population had increased by an extraordinary 53% in 2004. This is explained by the increase in the public sector payroll and an increase in the number of people benefiting from the government’s intense “missions” program.

Independent analysts have expressed their disagreement with the new figures published by the INE, on the grounds that they are based on just one indicator and not on the true quality of life of Venezuelans, apart from the fact that the INE has not provided specific details about the new methodology employed. This lack of information has established a serious precedent and is a harsh blow to the future credibility of the INE. However, for the purposes of announcing the blessings of the revolutionary process being promoted by President Chávez to the world, the INE has accomplished its task. The figures will be touted as an achievement of the process and hoisted as a banner of its success in reducing poverty. Meanwhile Venezuelans who live in abject poverty and the hoards of street children throughout the country suffer in silence.



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