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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean is now easing at a slower pace, the UN's regional economic body said on Thursday, calling on governments to make policy changes that encourage growth while reducing the huge gap between the rich and poor.
UN economists based in Santiago said about 164 million people, or 28 percent of the region's population, are still considered poor. That is nearly unchanged from last year. Out of those, 68 million of them are in extreme poverty.
The last annual report said growing job income and economic growth helped lift a million people out of poverty to the lowest rate in more than three decades. But the UN economic body said that after decades of progress the pace in poverty reduction has now slowed considerably due to rising food costs and weaker economic growth.
"Since 2002 poverty in Latin America has dropped 15.7 percentage points and indigence 8 percentage points but recent numbers show a slowdown," Alicia Barcena, head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told reporters.
"The only acceptable number living in poverty is zero," Barcena said. "That's why we're calling on countries to make structural changes in their economies to achieve sustained growth with greater equality."
The Latin America and the Caribbean region is among the world's most unequal.
On average, 20 percent of the households with the lowest incomes in the region get just 5 percent of a country's total income, while the wealthiest 20 percent of households get 47 percent of the total income.
Latin American countries that experienced some of the biggest reductions in poverty levels since 2011 were led by Venezuela with the rate dropping by 5.6 percentage points to 23.9 percent. Others included Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
While levels remained unchanged in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic, poverty rose slightly in Mexico to 37 percent from 36 percent a year before.
The ECLAC's Social Panorama 2013 report used new ways of evaluating poverty to complement the traditional measurement based on monetary income.
"A multidimensional measurement of poverty limited to unsatisfied basic needs shows that shortages like the lack of access to drinking water or to appropriate sanitation systems still affect a significant number of people in the region," the report said.
"That makes one wonder if the public policies intended to overcome poverty put enough emphasis on the achievement of minimum standards."
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao
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