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Poverty in Colombia

Poverty in Colombia refers to the serious problem of misdistribution of income, characterized by some of the worst poverty statistics in Latin America. Both the Colombian government and the private organizations have been managing the poverty problem with a superficial approach, focused in charity-type programs, with poor outcome, due primarily to the effects on the economy of social, political and economic events throughout the country's history and more recently the effect of the Colombian armed conflict.

Social Strata in Colombia

Colombia has one of the strictest stratified social systems in the world, because of that the concept of poverty could be relative. One example of this classification can be seen in Colombia's capital Bogota. Bogota is divided into localities and regardless the actual income of an individual, a person can be socially perceived either as poor or wealthy only depending on what part of the city or locality someone lives. The roots of this phenomenon can be traced back to the outstanding difference in income between the poor and the rich. In particular, Colombia's employers are not closely observed for equality in employment and has had as a result a job market highly influenced by biased criteria from the employers such as skin color, sex, and even someone's social strata. This social stratification has also come with an economic expense since people that are economically stable and making a good revenue can cheat the health care system and benefit themselves from programs that are specifically made for the poor since their social classification can be deduced simply by knowing where a person lives. It is not clear however how the problem of social classification in Colombia can be solved. Culturally Colombians have suffered of the social stigma of social stratification and it has deeply affected the lives of many if not all Colombians. In this sense the media has played a role on its own. Radio and television have developed entertainment, shows and a diversity of programs basing their target audience according to their social classification. This is particularly noticeable in the big cities where the exclusive upper classes concentrate in luxurious neighborhoods that contrast with extensive areas of more humble dwellings.

Colombia's social strata has been divided as follows and has been extensively used by the government as a reference to develop social welfare programs, statistical information and to some degree for the assignment of lands.

Stratum 1 : Lowest income.

Stratum 2 : Low-Middle class.

Stratum 3 : Middle class.

Stratum 4 : Upper middle class.

Stratum 5 : Upper class.

Stratum 6 : Wealthy. Only the 6% of Colombians fit this category.

Colombia's social stratification is also closely tied to skin color. The poorest regions of Colombia are mostly populated by African-Spanish descendants.

Poverty statistics

A CEPAL report included data about poverty in 35% of the general population and 17% extreme poverty, with an estimated 9,654,722 people living in extreme poverty.


Colombia has a high rate of unemployment and a work market dominated by informal jobs, with few significant prospects for the creation of new work opportunities. The National Department of Statistics in its current report, points out that the unemployment index in the 7 main cities in the country is above 8.6%, for about 3.7 million Colombians of working age. About 32% of the people who do have work dont have any formal work contract, nor access to the healthcare system. 48% of the Colombian work force derive their income from small scale informal economy such as street vendors and garbage recyclers. The unemployment situation in Colombia has been described by the CEPAL general secretary, Jose Antonio Ocampo, as dramatic.


Colombia's Gini coefficient (a measurement of inequality in wealth distribution) was 0.51 in 2000 and 0.56 in 2006, making it the second-most unequal country in Latin America terms of wealth distribution, after Brazil. This means that 10 percent of the wealthiest homes have incomes 30 times higher than the 10 percent of poorest homes. In Colombia five financial groups control 92% of the assets. 36% are controlled by the Antioquian Trade Group (Grupo Empresarial Antioqueno) and 28% are controlled by one person (Julio Mario Santo Domingo). An estimated 5% of the population owns and controls over 90% of the property in the country. Over 60.1% of Colombian homes are below the poverty threshold in 2000. By 2009 official statistics from the Dane showed it at around 46%.

Economic recession

Since the late 1990s, many important economic sectors in Colombia have experienced economic recession, worsening the poverty situation in the country. The most affected sectors are the agricultural, manufacturing, transportation and building industries, which are the main sources of employment in the country. The global growth of these economic sectors, compared with the population growth in the same period gives an index of 0.7, indicating a larger growth in the number of people needing jobs than the number of employment positions on offer.

Related Issues


The current index of illiteracy in the country is 7.6%, with areas such as Choco Department and Sucre Department having a 16% level. These rates shows a worsening of the illiteracy index, compared with those 20 years ago, when in the same areas the rate was 13.5%. Probable causes are the Colombian armed conflict and the insufficiency of funds destined for education in Colombia.


Over 500 000 children under 5 years old (about 13%) in Colombia suffer from acute malnutrition and up to 15% suffer from chronic malnutrition, the most affected areas being Boyaca and Narino Department.

See also

Poverty by country



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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Poverty in Colombia

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