Poverty in El Salvador, an issue that leads to crime and migration

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Nov 11th, 2022
Poverty in El Salvador
Poverty in El Salvador.

Poverty in El Salvador is an issue that a large percentage of Salvadoran families and individuals have to face every day. These daily struggles are even worse in 2022; due to the global crisis of high prices, the war in Ukraine, and the remaining effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

El Salvador poverty rate in 2022 is 27.4, an increase of 2.8 from the 2021 rate and 1.2 more than the 2020 rate. This 2022 rate increase shows that there are 1,734,679 Salvadorans living on less than $5.50 per day.

Poverty rate in El Salvador
City of Nejapa El Salvador. Photo by Jdklub

What is El Salvador Poverty Rate?

El Salvador’s poverty rate is 27.4 percent; it is based on the percentage of the Salvadoran population living on less than $5.50 a day, the international poverty standard.

El Salvador Poverty Rate – $5.50 per person per day
Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 **2022
Rate 32.6 31.4 29.5 26.3 23.5 26.2 24.6 **27.4
Source: www.digestyc.gob.sv **Non-official final rate
Poverty Rate in El Salvador
**Non-official final rate

From 2015 to 2019, the Salvadoran poverty rate constantly declined. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number increased starting in 2020 and is expected to rise more in 2023.

El Salvador’s poverty is a problem that prevents many from getting a proper education and access to adequate healthcare services. Also, obtaining better drinkable water and optimal sanitation services becomes problematic while living in poverty.

Why is El Salvador Poor?

El Salvador is poor due to crime and violence, governmental corruption, low levels of education, lack of opportunities, and low Paying Wages. These issues impact the daily lives of Salvadorans looking to escape poverty.

Crime and Violence

One of the main reasons El Salvador has a high poverty rate in 2022 is crime and violence. High levels of crime and violence impact the daily lives of most Salvadorans, especially those living in poverty.

Many families or individuals who live in poverty have to worry more about crime or violence than spending time looking for ways out of poverty.

Also, most families or individuals living in poverty can only afford to reside in areas with high crime and violence numbers. Living in these areas means having less access to employment and proper education.

Areas with high poverty levels have a hard time attracting new businesses or investors; therefore, the unemployment numbers in these areas are higher than in safer locations.

Education is also gets affected by crime and violence. Fear of crime discourages parents and children from attending high school and enrolling in universities.

Compared to previous years, claims of crime and violence in El Salvador are down in 2022. However, the country is still not entirely safe.

In summary, crime and violence prevent many people from gaining proper employment and education; it keeps the poverty cycle alive.

Governmental Corruption

Corruption by public officials has affected the levels of poverty in El Salvador. Over the last 25-plus years, the country has encountered many corruption cases at different levels of government.

These public funds could have been used to help individuals out of poverty; however, they ended up in the hands of corrupt public officials that used them to enrich themselves and their families.

A blatant example of corruption by Salvadoran public officials at the highest level is that the last four presidents have had legal problems related to money laundering and corruption.

Two of ARENA’s ex-presidents had legal issues concerning corruption. Ex-president Paco Flores died while on house arrest awaiting trial, and ex-president Tony Saca is serving time in Jail for taking public funds for personal gain.

Additionally, the last two ex-presidents, both belonging to the FMLN political party, are dealing with corruption cases. Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren have been accused of corruption by Salvadoran authorities; they are now living in Nicaragua, avoiding Salvadoran Justice.

All the money stolen by these four Government officials, and many others, could have helped reduce the poverty levels in El Salvador.

Low Levels of Education

Low levels of education help keep the poverty cycle alive in the country. El Salvador has a weak education system.

According to Unicef, less than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade. Also, only one out of three complete the ninth grade, and one out of five graduate from high school.

Getting the proper education in impoverished communities or living in poverty is challenging. Many people do not see education for themselves or their children as a priority; also, many don’t have the financial means for education.

Furthermore, getting teachers to go to teach in these areas is not easy. Teachers fear getting attacked or extorted by criminal organizations just for venturing into these communities.

Another issue with education in impoverished communities is student attendance. Some parents don’t allow their kids to attend school because they fear they could be attacked by gangs or forced to join them.

Additionally, some children are not allowed to go to school because their parents need them to help make money to support the family. These kids have to start looking for ways to earn money at an early age.

By only having a low level of education, these kids will miss future opportunities that can help them and their families get out of poverty.

Lack of Opportunities

Lack of opportunities is another factor that keeps the Salvadoran poverty cycle going. There are limited options in the country for getting high-paying jobs.

Some employers will hesitate to hire an individual based on the location the person lives. Furthermore, job opportunities near poverty-stricken areas are limited, and they don’t pay as well.

The lack of opportunities for acquiring a high-paying job is not a problem only in impoverished areas; this problem affects all Salvadorans, even those with college degrees.

Low Paying Wages

The highest minimum wage in El Salvador is $365.00 per month. However, to earn this minimum wage, people most likely need a college degree or have another skill, such as being bilingual.

Even if a person living in poverty can get a job that pays the Salvadoran minimum wage, it is not enough to get them out of poverty. The Salvadoran minimum wage is so low that it hardly covers the essential cost of living.

These wages get even worse for those with a low level of education or those in rural areas. Low wages are another reason El Salvador has a high poverty rate.

Salvadoran house
Salvadoran house. Photo by Alison McKellar

Effects of Poverty on Crime and Migration

The effects of poverty on migration and crime are evident all over El Salvador. Over the last 30 years, the country has seen people migrating from rural areas or small towns to larger cities or different countries.

Also, the number of youths from poverty-stricken communities that have died or gone to jail for illicit activities is alarming.

Many individuals, especially youth, see criminal activities as a way out of poverty. They don’t realize that there are consequences to choosing to go this route. Most of these kids end up in jail or dead instead of out of poverty.

Family displacement or forced migration is another result of poverty in El Salvador. Families from impoverished gang-infested communities leave to protect their families or start fresh in a new location.

Poverty in El Salvador is one of the principal reasons many Salvadorans look to migrate to other countries in North America or Europe.

Rural Poverty in El Salvador

Poverty is a big problem in El Salvador but is worse in rural areas. Almost 45 percent of Salvadorans live in areas deemed rural. The poverty rate in El Salvador declined from 2015 to 2019; However, in rural areas, poverty has remained about the same.

Most people living in rural areas of El Salvador work as independent farmers or agricultural workers. Also, employment opportunities in the farming sector are precarious.

It is challenging to estimate how much money workers in rural areas earn since most businesses work informally. However, it is estimated informal businesses in rural areas pay less than the $243.46 monthly minimum wage established for agricultural workers.

Another problem facing rural El Salvador that keeps poverty alive is the lack of access to proper education. Most schools in rural areas only teach until the 6th grade.

In El Salvador, as in other Central American countries, rural areas continue to be the face of poverty.

Rural El Salvador
Rural El Salvador. Photo by Amelia Hunt

What Should the Government do?

One of the first things the government needs to accomplish is to improve security. By having a better sense of security, people in impoverished communities will seek more opportunities that could lead them out of poverty.

Also, the education system needs to improve. If the new generations get better educated, they will likely never end up in poverty.

Lastly, the Salvadoran minimum wage needs to increase to levels that allow families and individuals to move ahead. The current minimum wages are barely enough to survive.

Undoubtedly, poverty in El Salvador is a problem with deep roots that will take years to overcome. Nonetheless, the sooner steps are taken to eradicate it, the sooner the country will improve.