Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2009

Declining Poverty in Latin America? A Critical Analysis of New Estimates by International Institutions

Ann Helwege, Melissa B.L. Birch

September 2007

Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University


Indicators of progress in overcoming poverty in Latin America have been heralded recently by international institutions. Yet a closer look at data from the World Bank and the United Nations reveals contradictions that are not easily resolved by reference to the underlying methodologies. This paper provides an introduction to how poverty is measured, what the data indicate about trends in poverty, and reasons to tread cautiously in interpreting it as evidence of progress or stagnation. While significant progress has been achieved in a few large countries, the poorest countries are still very poor, and some countries have even seen increases in their poverty rates despite economic growth.