Argentina’s government may have given its long-questioned inflation and growth domestic product numbers a facelift, but the pressure to present more accurate economic data hasn’t translated to every index the country’s National Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC) works on. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government decided this week to not report on the country’s poverty and indigence rates for the second semester of 2013, allegedly for “methodological” reasons. The release of figures from the Household Survey, which would have included key data regarding poverty and indigence, has been postponed without further notice. The unprecedented decision has enraged many in the South American nation, whose economy is far from being a competitive one.
Poverty and indigence rates per region
Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said that since the new measurement of the CPI (Consumer Price Index) involves “all the country,” the food basket and the total basket have totally different calculation methods. For that reason there had been difficulties with “transferring” the methodology between the old and new one to every index. It was the first time such rates were to be published since the country — supposedly, some argue — changed the measures with which they reported on inflation and GDP numbers in February, in a long face-off with the International Monetary Fund. Opposition members said that the reasons to not publish the poverty index are “shameful” and “contradictory” and argue that the real motive is that the indigence and poverty indexes, under the new methodology, will be much higher than previously reported. Meanwhile Capitanich focused on saying that poverty and indigence has reduced drastically in recent years — though he offered no evidence to prove it.
It seems as if the problem has less to do with the measurements used and more with the actual data. Non-official numbers say that the country has over a 30% poverty and indigence rate. La Nación newspaper reported that former Indec officials said there are 15,4 million poor in the country. According to the stats institute — heavily influenced by the government — the poverty rate in the first semester of 2013 stood at 4.7%. Yet others say it gets even grayer. The Instituto de Pensamiento y Políticas Públicas (IPyPP), a local think tank, backs the numbers shared by several of those who have left the stats agency (generally over clashes with Kirchner). In a recent report they stated that poverty affects 15.4 million Argentineans, which amounts to 36.5% of the total population, while indigence rates indicate that at least 5 million people are suffering from hunger, which is a worrying 12.1% of the nation’s populace.
Graciela Bevacqua, a former head of Indec, estimates that the basic food basket in Argentina for a family of four last March was 3,330 pesos (over $400) and the total basket 7,525 pesos (circa $950). If the government had made some progress with reporting more accurately its economic data, this new blow shows that it’s quickly dissipating. As politicians gear up for elections next year, poverty and indigence rates will be on the table. If the numbers are as daunting as some say, Kirchner’s electoral prospects are looking extremely grim.