La inclusión social en América Latina / Social Inclusion in Latin America

La Inclusión Social en América Latina

América Latina por mucho tiempo ha sido una de las regiones con mayor desigualdad del mundo. Una sociedad en que una considerable proporción de la población es poco valorada – si no activamente discriminada – y negado su acceso a servicios, no es solamente una sociedad moralmente reprensible sino también ineficaz y incapaz de llegar a tener un desarrollo significativo y sostenible.

Al reconocer este hecho, Americas Quarterly (AQ) ha publicado un Índice de la Inclusión Social, el cual busca definir e inspirar la discusión de un concepto que a la vez abarca y va más allá de la mera desigualdad. La inclusión social incluye los factores que agudizan la desigualdad de ingresos y expresa la voz y autonomía de una persona. Es la habilidad de un ciudadano de “participar en el básico funcionamiento político, económico y social de su sociedad”.

A continuación, en la página web de Análisis Latino, aquí.


Social Inclusion in Latin America

Latin America has long been one of the most unequal regions in the world. A society in which significant proportions of the population are under-valued – if not actively discriminated against – and denied fair access to services, education and employment is not only morally reprehensible but also inefficient and incapable of meaningful and sustainable development.

Recognizing this, Americas Quarterly (AQ) has published a new Social Inclusion Index. This index seeks to conceptualize and inspire discussion of a concept that both encompasses and goes beyond mere inequality. Social inclusion captures those factors that contribute to and exacerbate income inequality and expresses, in some sense, a person’s voice and autonomy. It is the ability of a citizen “to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society”.

To give quantitative meaning to this somewhat nebulous concept, AQ scored countries on both inputs to and outputs of social inclusion. The inputs included are: GDP growth, percentage of GDP spent on social programs, secondary school enrolment (disaggregated by gender and race), political rights, civil rights and civil society participation. The outputs are: the percentage of the population living on more than $4/day (disaggregated by gender and race), sense of personal empowerment, sense of government responsiveness, access to adequate housing (disaggregated by gender and race), and access to a formal job (disaggregated by gender and race). The countries are then given an aggregate score out of 100 and ranked.

The results are at first glance unsurprising. Chile (71.9) and Uruguay (71.2) lead the pack, well ahead of Brazil (51.4) in third place. Paraguay (21.2), Nicaragua (10.3) and Guatemala (7.5) bring up the rear (only twelve countries were ranked in this initial report).

The good news across the countries surveyed is that women as a group are doing well. Few countries showed significant differences in access to secondary school education, housing or employment across the sexes. Nicaragua even shows a somewhat concerning tilt in favor of girls at school: at 59.6% enrolled they are well ahead of the boys at 47.6%. A similar if not as pronounced trend is visible in Brazil. While the indicators of increased empowerment of women and girls is encouraging, this should not be at the expense of men and boys. Development is not a zero-sum game.

Exclusion on racial terms is common across the region, reaching extremes in Paraguay, Nicaragua and Guatemala. It is perhaps to be expected that such racially homogenous countries as Chile and Uruguay lead this ranking, while those countries facing the challenge of integrating diverse populations, in many cases with a history of violence, lag behind. Brazil and Peru, while they still have a long way to go, have made impressive strides in this aspect.

Chile’s strong result reflects its consistently high rankings in both inputs and outputs, although a marked difference in access to housing across ethnicity (84.3% for minorities compared with 97% for the ethnic majority) stands out. Civil society participation is also quite low, with citizens belonging to, on average, 1.3 civil society organizations. Nevertheless, as recognized by AQ, this low level of participation could reflect a sense of general content, especially as it corresponds with a reasonably high sense of government responsiveness (3.66 out of 7 and third in the region). The student protests that have marked the Chilean political landscape over the past year are, of course, a demonstration of the remaining challenges.

Uruguay stands out for the high proportion of its GDP devoted to social programs (21.65%, second only to Brazil). There are pronounced differences in enrolment in secondary school across ethnic groups (82.5% for the majority, 69.3% for ethnic minorities) and this is unsurprisingly reflected in the outputs of access to a formal job (85.9% to 77.6%) and percent living on more than $4 a day (89.5% to 78.9%). Civil society participation is the lowest in the region (1.14) but this is accompanied by the region’s highest sense of government responsiveness (4.58) and second highest sense of personal empowerment (4.3 out of 7, second only to the US).

Brazil is a huge spender on social programs (26.05% of GDP) but differences across ethnicities remain, especially in the percentage of the population living on more than $4 a day (72.1% to 67.8%).  Nevertheless, the country’s excellent progress over the last several years is evident: the challenge will be to continue efficiently using the vast resources that have been mobilized in order to finish the job, now that the “low-picking fruit” of development has been harvested.

Ecuador and Peru have tied for fourth place with 43.8 points. Peru, with a long and sometimes brutal history of ethnic discrimination, ought to be commended for its excellent work in improving minority access to secondary schooling (83%, compared to 79.7% for the ethnic majority), although this has yet to be translated into outputs, where considerable differences remain. Only 55.4% of the ethnic minority lives on more than $4 a day, compared to 71.8% for the majority. Access to formal jobs is rather scarce in general (61.2% for the majority, 49.1% for the minority).

Ecuador suffers from an even more restricted formal employment sector (52.5% of the ethnic majority, 41.4% for the minority) and the enormous difference in wealth across the races presents an urgent challenge. 70.1% of the majority lives on more than $4 a day compared to only 47.1% of the ethnic minority. Nevertheless, a sense of personal empowerment permeates the country, with a score of 4.

Colombia (41.8) needs to improve both inputs and outputs. Political and civil rights are a concern (27/40 and 34/60, respectively): the country has the dubious honor of tying last in terms of civil rights (along with Guatemala and Nicaragua). The informal sector is large (only 55.3% of the ethnic majority and 47.6% of the minority have access to a formal job) and there are considerable differences in access to adequate housing across ethnic groups (84.1% to 66.4%) as well as in the percentage living on more than $4 per day (64.8% to 48.2%).

Bolivia and Mexico are also tied, with 39 points. Bolivia is divided across ethnic lines in both inputs and outputs (percent living on more than $4 per day, for example, is 62.2% to 45.7% for ethnic minorities) and access to formal employment is low in general. Nevertheless, the sense of government responsiveness is the second highest in the region (3.91) and civil society participation, at an average of 2.45 civil society organization memberships per person, is the region’s highest.

Mexico must also increase the size of its formal sector, and differences across ethnic lines are shown in access to a formal job (44.3% to 33.1%), access to adequate housing (92% to 84.1% – high if unequal) and the percentage living on more than $4 per day (75.4% to 61.3%). Sluggish GDP growth (1.66%), thanks to its Northern neighbor’s economic difficulties, complicated the country’s social development task.

Ethnic divisions heavily mark Paraguay (21.2) in both inputs and outputs. Enrolment in secondary school (84.5% to 57.8%), percentage living on more than $4 a day (75.6% to 44.3%), access to adequate housing (78.8% to 51.5%), access to a formal job (44.9% to 22.3%): it is a grim picture. Civil society participation is high at an average of 2.4 memberships, but the country is the worst performer in personal empowerment (3.73).

Nicaragua, 10.3, reverses the pattern of reduced access to formal jobs for the ethnic minority: 50.2% of them are in the formal sector, compared to 40.4% of the majority. Women also enjoy much greater access to formal jobs (50.4%) than men (34.9%). Nevertheless, a more familiar pattern of inequalities is visible in wealth (37.5% of the majority live on more than $4 a day compared to 27.1% of ethnic minorities) and access to housing (26.4% to an abysmal 8.2%).

Bringing up the rear with 7.5, Guatemala displays extreme inequalities across all indicators. 27.5% of the ethnic minority live on more than $4 a day, compared to 62.5% of the majority, and only 27.3% have access to a formal job, compared to 51.6% of the majority. Secondary school enrolment is low for everyone, but especially so for ethnic minorities (35%).  Civil society participation is the third highest in the region, with an average membership of 2.35 organizations.

Quantifying the intangible

It is an interesting picture, and AQ itself recognises the shortcomings of the data. Civil society membership is, to my mind, a problematic measure of social inclusion: is it an input for inclusion, or a reaction to exclusion? Or neither? Or both? Sheer quantity of investment in social programs, as expressed in the index by the percentage of GDP earmarked for these purposes, is not a perfect indicator of success either: corruption, inefficiency or sheer incompetence may render vast sums ineffective.

This is, however, the nature of such indices: they attempt to simplify the complex and quantify the intangible, and as such their results must always be taken with a grain of salt. AQ’s new index is, the organization says, an invitation to dialogue, to “begin a debate on the concrete dimensions of social inclusion”. In cutting the regional pie a different way, it has shone a new light on some of the region’s successes and continued challenges.


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