In Colombia today 26 million people, that is 60% of the population, are absolutely poor (people whose income is insufficient for the basic minimum basket of family goods). Of these, some 9 million people, that is 23% of the population, are indigent (they do not even have the income for one proper meal a day) according to figures just released by the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Commission (Cepal) published in El Colombiano on 26th September 2001.
The figures show the catastrophic impact of the neo-liberal model in Colombia in the 1990s. Ten years ago the poverty level was 49%. José Fernando Gutiérrez from the National Trade Union School in Medellín points to the sharp deterioration in recent years, "Income per had, which is the principal indicator of the standard of living of a population, fell from US $2,716 per head in 1997 to US $1,890 this year".
This drop in average income of more than 30% in less than four years hides the inhuman impact on the working class and peasantry. 5 million people have been forced into absolute poverty in the last 5 years. According to Cepal 46.6% of Colombians have an income of less than 150,000 pesos (US $70) a month, which is half of the minimum wage.
Besides the socio-economic situation is getting worse. The Department of National Statistics (Dane) reports that the rate of unemployment for August in the country’s thirteen principal cities was 18.1%. According to Dane urban underemployment reached 33.4% as well. That is to say the Colombian state admits that more than half of the urban population subsists without a formal job. Surely this figure is an underestimate, nonetheless damning for the Pastrana government and its neo-liberal framework.
Cepal reports that in most Latin American countries the income per head of the top 10% is more than 20 times higher than the average income of the poorest 40% of the population. And Colombia is one of the countries with the highest indices of poverty, unemployment and inequality in income distribution.