Friday, June 25, 2010

The Count: childhood poverty

45 and 17.9...

...are the percentages of children and teenagers in Latin America living in poverty and extreme poverty defined in terms broader than simple income. That's right, ECLAC has a new research bulletin out giving us a sneak peek of an upcoming ECLAC and UNICEF report on poverty trends throughout the region.

The idea is simple. Much like the World Bank's Human Opportunity Index (HOI), which sets out to measure access to the resources that grant a child the opportunity to succeed in life, this new measure of childhood poverty is based on the notion of human rights--both social and economic. In other words, going beyond the mere notion of income, a child is considered poor if any of his or her basic rights are violated. The six rights explicitly considered are:
  1. Nutrition: defined in terms of weight and size by age.
  2. Clean drinking water: taking into account it's origin, supply and accessibility.
  3. Sanitation: defined as relative access to a sewer system.
  4. Housing: considering the number of people per room, the building materials of the roof, floor and walls.
  5. Education: in terms of assistance and number of completed school years.
  6. Information: defined as access to electricity and having a radio, tv or telephone.
So how much of a difference does this new measure make? A LOT. The pie chart below shows the percentages of different poverty classifications for the whole region. Light blue is outside of poverty, dark gray represents income poverty, light gray is poverty in terms of both income and the absence of rights, and green is poverty just in terms of the violation of rights. In other words, without the new methodology, we'd be ignoring all of the green chunk and a big part of the light gray chunk.

Now, as usual, the Count asks: what does the country breakdown look like? And you'll find just such a thing right below, courtesy of Maladjusted Graphs™.

[Percentage of children and teenagers living in poverty and extreme poverty, circa 2008]
As can be seen above, the top five on the list are, in order, Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela. On the other extreme, the five countries where children are worse off are, again in order, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru. (so much for Peru's economic miracle, no?)

Well there you have it folks. Yet another welcome attempt to challenge the misleading simplifications of standard statistical indicators.

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