• 58

    Million people lifted from poverty since 2002

  • 74.7

    Life expectancy at birth

  • 13.5

    Expected years of schooling

  • 23.3%

    Average loss in HDI due to inequality

  • 67.2%

    Employment-to-population ratio

  • 10300

    GNI/capita in US$

About Latin America and the Caribbean

About Latin America and the Caribean

Women from Paraguay
Indigenous women in Asuncion, Paraguay (Photo UNDP: Paraguay)

Latin America and the Caribbean is a middle-income region, with the majority of its 42 countries and territories belonging to that category. Within this  heterogeneous region are countries that range from the Western Hemisphere’s only low income country, Haiti, and some of the world’s rising powers: Chile and Mexico belong to the OECD, the developed nations organization; Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are G20 members and Brazil is the world’s seventh largest economy.


Over the past decade,  Latin America and the Caribbean went through its highest economic growth period since the 1960s. This economic boom, along with job creation and some of the world’s most innovative social policies lifted over 90 million people into an emerging middle class.  Today,  34.3% of the population is in the middle class (with incomes between $10 a day and $50 a day), and 25.3% are still under the moderate poverty line of PPP $ 4 a day, according to the most recent data released by the Socio-Economic Database for Latin America and the Caribbean SEDLAC.


The region is well on the way to achieving the MDGs—and several countries achieved targets comfortably and before the deadline. Poverty has been reduced to the lowest levels in three decades.  More girls are in school.  Child mortality has dropped and we are fighting diseases, with some countries spearheading global innovation in universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. 


But too many women still die in childbirth. And more needs to be done to boost gender parity in employment and national parliaments as well as access to education and reproductive health services. Sanitation must also be improved and more needs to be done to reverse forest loss, according to a recent joint assessment from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP and other UN agencies.


In spite the progress seen in the last decade, about 216 million Latin Americans (38 percent of the total population) are still vulnerable and risk sliding back into poverty. Therefore, one of the main future challenges in the region is the construction of a universal social protection floor to protect households from a wide variety of risks—including impoverishment.


Inequality remains a key problem. Progress has been weaker among women, youth, indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and rural populations. Even though a UNDP study shows that income inequality diminished in 14 of 17 countries —thanks to the impact of education on labor incomes and the spread of conditional cash transfer programs— 10 of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in Latin America.  The region’s positive Human Development Index suffers an average loss of 25.7 percent when adjusted for inequalities.


As a middle-income region, Latin America and the Caribbean will also be facing new challenges like the end of its demographic dividend and the onset of an ageing population. Another major challenge are the unequal opportunities for young people: one in every four Latin Americans aged 15-29 is poor or extremely poor, only 35 percent have access to education and 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.


Violence, crime, and insecurity hinder development in the region. From 2000-2010, homicide rates rose by 11 percent while declining in most regions worldwide. And on a typical day in Latin America, 460 people are victims of sexual violence, usually women.


Moreover, disaster-risk resilience is a crucial challenge, with natural disasters hitting the poorest hardest. In particular, Central America and the Caribbean face greater vulnerability due to frequent natural disasters and subsequent food shocks.