Poverty in El Salvador, an Issue that Leads to Crime and Migration

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Sep 22nd, 2021
Poverty in El Salvador
Poverty in El Salvador.

In 2019, the rate of poverty in El Salvador was 22.8%. In 2020, because of the pandemic, it grew to 26.2%. In 2021, El Salvador’s poverty rate is expected to increase even more. The country’s GDP declined by -8.58% in 2020; this drop will impact the number of people living in poverty in El Salvador in 2021.

Poverty is an issue that a large percentage of Salvadoran families and individuals face every day. This daily struggle has gotten even worse in 2021, due to the COVID pandemic.

In 2021, it is estimated that 3 out of 10 people living in El Salvador live in poverty. These families live on less than $5.50 per day per person. El Salvador’s poverty is a problem that prevents many from getting a proper education, adequate healthcare, drinkable water, and sanitation services.

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

According to a report by Francisco Gavidia University, poverty in El Salvador will increase to 33.3% in 2021, which means 2,276,808 people will be living in poverty. This poverty increase signifies that in 2021, 430,242 more people will be living in poverty than in 2019, which had 1,846,566 people living in poverty.

What is El Salvador Poverty Rate?

El Salvador’s poverty rate is 26.2 percent. This poverty rate had declined constantly from 2015 to 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number increased in 2020 and is expected to rise more in 2021.

El Salvador’s poverty rate of 26.2% is based on the percentage of the Salvadoran population living on less than $5.50 a day, the international poverty standard.

Year Poverty Rate
$5.50 per person per day
Relative Poverty
$3.20 per person per day
Extreme Poverty
$1.90 per person per day
2020 *26.2% *17.6% *8.6%
2019 22.8% 18.3% 4.5%
2018 26.3% 20.6% 5.7%
2017 29.2% 23.0% 6.2%
2016 32.7% 24.8% 7.9%
2015 34.8% 26.8% 8.1%
Source: www.worldbank.org
*Non-official final rate

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 affect the levels of poverty in El Salvador; they impact the daily lives of Salvadorans looking to escape poverty.

Crime and Violence

Crime and violence are one of the main reasons El Salvador has a high poverty rate in 2021. They have a direct impact on 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. 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; therefore, the unemployment numbers in the area are higher than in safer areas.

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

Although crime in El Salvador is down in 2021, compared to previous years, it 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 20 plus years, money that could have been used to help individuals out of poverty ended in the hands of corrupted public officials.

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

ARENA’s ex-presidents Paco Flores died while on house arrest awaiting trial, and Tony Saca is in Jail for corruption. FMLN’s ex-presidents Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren are both living in Nicaragua, avoiding Salvadoran Justice.

All the money stolen by Government officials 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 El Salvador. 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 is difficult to do for different reasons. Many people living in poverty do not see education for their children as a priority, which maintains the cycle of poverty alive.

Also, getting teachers to go to teach in these areas is not easy. Teachers have the constant fear of getting attacked by criminal organizations just by venturing into the communities.

Another issue with education in impoverished communities is student’s attendance. Some parents don’t allow their kids to attend school because they fear that their kids 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 are forced by necessity to start looking for ways to earn money at an early age; however, in the process, they miss obtaining a proper education.

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.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” “No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” Nelson Mandela.

Lack of Opportunities

Lack of opportunities is another factor that keeps the poverty cycle going. There is no denying that people who live in poverty have less access to opportunities to get a high-paying job or a proper job.

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.

Lack of opportunities to earn a living is not a problem only in impoverished areas. This is a problem that 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 20 years, the country has seen people migrating 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 illicit activities as a way of getting out of poverty. They don’t realize that there are consequences by 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, it is worse in the 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.

Employment opportunities in the agricultural sector are precarious. It is difficult 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.

El Salvador Poverty
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 are giving a better education, they will most 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 deeps roots that will take years to overcome. Nonetheless, the sooner steps are taken to eradicate it, the sooner the country will improve.


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