Latin American Economic Outlook 2011

How Middle-Class Is Latin America?

image of Latin American Economic Outlook 2011

This year’s Latin American Economic Outlook focuses on those in the middle of the income distribution in Latin America. If these middle sectors have stable employment and reasonably robust incomes, then, arguably, they provide a solid foundation for economic progress. Moreover, following the political role often attributed to the middle classes by historians and sociologists, they might also support moderate but progressive political platforms in Latin America’s democracies. In fact, this report shows that, contrary to expectations, in Latin America this group is still economically vulnerable, few have university degrees and many work in informal employment. This is a “middle class” quite different from the group that became the engine of development in many OECD countries. In Latin America, what are the economic characteristics of these vulnerable middle sectors? How do they perceive inequality, public policies and democracy? How can public policies protect the livelihoods of these middle-sector households? These questions guide the Outlook to discuss why and how upward mobility should and can be promoted, and how safety nets can be put in place to protect the most vulnerable segments of people within those middle-income groups, as well as the poorest and most disadvantaged households in the economy at large. The report tackles policies such as social protection and education that promote upward mobility, and underscores the importance of fiscal policy as a tool to finance the required reforms and programmes that can engage the Latin American middle sectors in a renewed social contract.

“Latin America is undergoing a rapid transformation and the middle classes are one of the most powerful motors of this change. This edition of the Latin American Economic Outlook analyses the process of expansion of the region’s middle sectors through innovative statistical methods and from a refreshing perspective. The middle classes are dynamic but also vulnerable; they are not poor but they are nevertheless far from enjoying a comfortable and secure economic situation. Their future depends on their own actions, and on the economic and social policies that the region’s governments will adopt over the next decade.”

Eduardo Lora, Chief Economist, Inter-American Development Bank.

“This new report from the OECD Development Centre touches upon a theme that is not often studied but which is of vital importance for the development of our countries: middle-income groups in Latin American societies. The report’s recommendations should be used as a basis for economic policy in the region, with the objective of promoting policy actions in favour of a sector that in advanced economies has been a pillar of development and democratic harmony – in contrast to what has happened in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Juan Temístocles Montás, Minister of Economy and Planning, Dominican Republic.

“This excellent report leads us to conclude that only with a stronger focus on rights, democracy and redistributive policies can we break the transmission of inequality and poverty from generation to generation, and advance towards the consolidation of a real middle class, a driver of development.”

Soraya Rodriguez Ramos, Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Spain.

English Also available in: Spanish, Chinese, French


OECD Development Centre

In spite of the difficulties presented by serious internal armed conflict, Colombia's market economy grew steadily in the latter part of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression) and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 8.2% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. Meanwhile the Colombian stock exchange climbed from 1 000 points at its creation in July 2001 to over 7 300 points by November 2008.


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