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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 04:43 GMT
Argentina's poor hit new record
A young girl under a huge Argentine flag during a protest march
A four-year recession has hit Argentines hard
The BBC's Peter Greste

Almost 58% of Argentines now live on or below the poverty line according to the government's own figures.

The country's economic statistics agency, Indec, released new details which showed a sharp increase in the number of poor between May and October last year.

POVERTY LINE
Argentines scramble for looted food
Earnings of $200 a month per family
19 million people fall below standard
"The one good thing about being poor in Argentina," a street cleaner told me, "is that you are not alone".

In fact, that man who was picking through the rubbish in Buenos Aires to survive now has 19 million countrymen who are, to a greater or lesser extent, in a similar position.

Officially, 57.5% of the population meet the government's definition of living in poverty.

They earn less than the 625 pesos a month - a little under $200 - deemed the amount an average family must find to meet their basic needs.

This is happening in a country that used to boast one of the world's highest standards of living.

In truth, Argentina always had a relatively large underclass of rural poor, but the catastrophic four-year recession which finally tore the heart out of the economy last year has dragged millions more into economic hardship.

The government statistics show that in the six months from May to October 2002, the number of poor shot up by more than 9%.

'Recovery' rubbished

In recent weeks the government has been arguing strongly that the downturn is now over and the recovery under way.

It points to a more stable exchange rate, increases in exports and growth projected at 3.5% next year.

The street cleaner laughed when I told him about the figures though.

The government might be right, he said, but the only growth he could see was the number of people fighting over the thinning rubbish.

See also:

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