Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class

In this important, encouraging study, a group of World Bank economists smashes the long-standing image of Latin America as a stagnant region marred by a yawning rich-poor divide. The authors’ statistics demonstrate that during the last two decades, economic growth and effective programs to redistribute wealth have ushered in a large middle class, defined as people living in households with annual incomes higher than $14,600. One hundred and fifty million Latin Americans now fit that definition, an impressive 30 percent of the region’s population, according to the authors. In addition, another 38 per-cent now belong to a lower-middle class that is less educated but no longer poor. Thus, according to these statistics, Latin America is no longer predominantly poor: a hard-won transformation of historic proportions. Not content to simply report this remarkable progress, the study’s authors worry that this new middle class will join the region’s rich elites in neglecting those still struggling to improve their lots. They urge Latin American governments to draft a more sustainable social contract by making equality of opportunity an explicit goal, strengthening their social security systems, and raising tax revenues to finance high-quality public education and health services.

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