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Lessons from Latin America: how to grow the middle class

Lessons from Latin America: how to grow the middle class

Posted by Juan Gavasa on April 15, 2014

Jonathan Menkos Zeissig, executive director, Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies, Guatemala, Central America, @jmenkos

The middle class people demand rights: The growth of the middle class has been related to pressure from citizens to ensure that governments grant, respect and promote economic, social and cultural rights. Before the global economic crisis, the pressure of citizens together with higher economic performance had good results. Latin American countries have implemented new public policies and major changes in fiscal policy, which have endowed greater resources to the state. There's also greater effectiveness and transparency in public administration.

Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief, Americas Quarterly, New York, United States, @chrissabatini

Racial inequality is an issue: In Mexico 76% of school age children of more European descent are in secondary school; compared to only 70% of those of indigenous or African descent. And in the formal labour market 45% of the European descendant workforce is in the formal sector (still very low), only 33% of the indigenous or African descendant workforce is in the formal sector.

Understanding the protests: There are two types (not including the Venezuelan protests which are different): the middle class protests for better education in Chile or Brazil and the social protests over land and resource conflicts in Peru, Chile's Patagonia and parts of Brazil. In some cases they overlap, but we shouldn't see all protests today as middle class, some are based on long-standing grievances that are still unresolved.

Rafael Ch, director of economic development, Cidac, Mexico City, Mexico, @CIDAC

The middle class is diminishing in Mexico: Real income and consumption of households in urban areas decreased from 2008 to 2010, causing more than 3.2 million people to enter again the ranks of poverty. These households know the social, economic and political benefits lost. Mexico's middle-class is highly vulnerable to macro and micro economic shocks. The economic crisis of 2008 reduced the growth rate of the middle class from 29.3% between 2006 and 2008 to 2.7% between 2008 and 2010.

Maria Cecilia Guemes, researcher, Spanish National Research Council, Madrid, Spain, @CeciliaGuemes

The danger of the middle class abandoning state services: There is concern about the growing preference of the middle class for private options for accessing to education or health. There is a risk that state schools, as is already happening with the hospitals, may be associated with a lack of resources.

Luís Fernando Bravo de Barros, peace studies researcher, Swisspeace Academy, Basel, Switzerland

Violent death is a huge issue throughout the continent: We are used to seeing Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq as emblematic examples of violence. But the two most violent countries in the world are El Salvador and Honduras. Brazil is the number one place in the world, in absolute numbers, where people are killed by guns.

Dr Kate Maclean, lecturer in social geography, Birkbeck, University of London, @kategeds99

Vulnerability to crime is not equal: The more affluent can afford to seclude themselves by hiring private security, living in safer areas and investing in protecting their living spaces. Poorer households are consigned to marginal areas, where violence can be part of everyday experience. For growth to be inclusive, this spatial segregation and inequality has to be addressed as well as income inequality.

Jessica Faieta, interim UNDP director for Latin America & the Caribbean, UNDP, New York, United States, @JessicaFaieta

The heavy-handed approach doesn't bring down crime: One of the main lessons drawn from Latin America is that 'iron fist' policies do not work: strong police and criminal repression in the region have often coincided with high crime rates. The assessed experiences confirm that protecting the rights to life, to dignity and to physical integrity is essential to citizen security, which is a responsibility of the state. Involving citizens is crucial for truly effective policies.

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