Long-awaited poverty survey gets underway

July 4, 2008

A team of pollsters began visiting houses across the country this week to gather data on income, employment, crime, and access to technology and social programs.

The National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC) will present the results of its annual Household Survey Oct. 31, after collecting information from 14,000 households in 79 of the country´s 81 cantons.

Last year´s survey made a splash, showing the biggest one-year drop in poverty in 13 years. Poverty levels sank to 16.7 percent from 20.2 percent in 2006, while unemployment dropped to 4.6 percent from 6 percent in 2006. INEC researchers said President Oscar Arias´ social programs partly explained the decreases, and Arias often mentions the figures as one of his central achievements.

Some political analysts say poverty will likely increase this year due to surging food and gas prices. Arias recently told the daily La Nación that he feared as much.

A family qualifies as “poor,” according to INEC researchers, if it cannot afford a “basket” (canasta basica) of 45 foods plus basic living expenses such as housing, education and clothing. Still, INEC has not modified its list of necessities since 1988, even though eating and living habits have changed.

Elizabeth Solano, the survey´s director, said the list will be changed in 2009 – a promise the institute has been making for years.   

Solano said researchers are going slow to make sure the changes are sound: A change in the way poverty is measured would be controversial because it will affect the survey´s outcome, she added.

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