Thursday, September 30th 2004 - 21:00 UTC

Chile's wealth distribution: among the world's worst.

The high income bracket in Chile makes fourteen times more than those at the other end of the scale, according to a book released this week by the Chilean Statistics Institute with the purpose of underlining the unequal wealth distribution in the country.

"How life has changed for the Chileans" is the title of the book which includes papers from eight experts in Economics who assess the evolution of the country's economic welfare between 1992 and 2002.

The income difference ratio between the richest 20% and poorest 20% of Chileans stands at 14 to 1, one of the most unequal distributions in Latinamerica, and the world, points out Joseph Ramos who heads the Economics Department of the University of Chile. The ratio is double that prevailing in developed countries.

However the book also shows that "because Chile has applied and has managed successfully a stable macroeconomic policy during the last twenty years, the country has avoided major recessions".

Mr. Ramos also points out to the "impressive" record of improved access to durable home goods by the lowest income brackets and most vulnerable groups of Chilean society.

Similarly the fact that most Chileans described as "poor" during the period considered, have had access to drinking water, sewage, electricity, housing as well as education and public health.

Back in 1992 virtually no member of the country's 20% poorest segment had joint access to all these services, but ten years later 46% of these homes have cooking gas and 87% are connected to the electricity grid.

In 1992 only 8% of the segment had refrigerators, while in 2002 the percentage jumped to 48 and 84% for the overall Chilean homes.

Mr. Ramos attributes these advances to the strong social outlays by the government and the sustained expansion of the economy.

One of the reports also indicates that a growing number of elderly Chileans live by themselves and more women figure as head of families.

Regarding education the book points out to a significant gap in educational opportunities for the vulnerable segment of the population.

Another report but from the Freedom and Development Institute, L y D, closely linked to the Chilean opposition, states that in 44% of Chilean homes there's a member of the household unemployed.

"Almost 40% are heads of family which means that four/five out of ten Chilean families have someone unemployed and in half of them that's the head of the family", said Tomas Flores, director of the L y D Economics Department.

Mr. Flores further argued that "this probably means that the government employment support programs benefited mostly young people and not necessarily heads of family".

As to the reasons for the high level of unemployment Mr. Flores said that during the last five years "economic growth has been low and this helped accumulate a stock of unemployment which will not be easy to overcome in one or two years".

"The main tool to combat unemployment is economic expansion", concluded Mr. Flores.

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