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5 Issues that Contribute to Poverty

Poverty is one of the main issues we are trying to help with here in El Salvador. In order for us to help understand how we can make a difference, we have to figure out what is contributing to the issue.


There are five major things that have contributed to the poverty rates here: low minimum wage, lack of education, government corruption, violence, and a lack of high paying job opportunities.


Thankfully, the new president Nayib Bukele, has helped clear the police and government from corruption and has turned the country into a safe place to be. Here are some interesting things we have learned about life in El Salvador and why the country struggles with poverty.


The Poverty Rate


Cangrejera is a rural area of El Salvador where at least 30% of the population live in severe poverty. By most of our standards, an even greater percentage live in poverty. The rural poverty rate in El Salvador is set at a three member household having less than $262.45 per month.


I think we can all agree that a 3 member household needs way more than $262.45/month to survive. This standard means you are not living in poverty as long as one person in your family is making minimum wage, and that simply isn’t true.


It isn’t an easy life here. Some people live without electricity or running water in an environment that is about 90 degrees year round. Typical parts of life here for those in poverty include:


  • They most likely have to bathe and do laundry in a polluted river or lake.

  • No access to running water and will need to walk into town to get a jug at a time.

  • Collect your own firewood for cooking.

  • Hunt iguanas and fish in order to get any protein.

  • Sleeping on a sand or dirt floor with a leaky roof.

  • No windows or permanent walls so any insects, mosquitos, scorpions and snakes can come in whenever they please.


A container of baby formula still costs $40 here like it does in the United States and because our currency here is the US Dollar, we have the same inflation problems here. In my opinion, the poverty rate is set so low here that you don't get a true assessment of how many people are truly living in poverty.



Minimum Wage

The minimum wage got increased last year to $365/month for service and industry related jobs and $245/month for agricultural jobs. That is for a six-day workweek!

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.

Women often set up a little table outside of their homes to start a food business but the prices are so low that I have no idea how they actually make a profit. You can get 16 freshly made corn tortillas for $1. Pupusas are a main staple for food here. I get full after eating 2 or 3 of them and they are only 15 cents each. People here are willing to work hard and put in long hours but don’t have the knowledge to help them build more successful career paths.

Low wages are a primary reason El Salvador has a high poverty rate.


Low Levels of Education

Low levels of education help keep the poverty cycle alive. 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 challenging. Many people don’t prioritize education for themselves or their children, and 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. Student attendance was also affected because of these safety concerns, and parents were fearful of sending their children to school.

Just six years ago our school in Cangrejera was located in the middle of two gangs territory. Violence was on the rise and attendance dropped from 8 teachers to 2 and from almost 500 students to only 33. Although now that the country is safer, this is no longer an issue but it will take time for people to truly feel safe again.

Furthermore, a few children are not permitted to sign up for school in light of the fact that their parents need them to assist with making money to help the family. In rural areas, about 62% of all children from the age of 5-17 work to support their families. These children have to begin searching for ways of bringing in money for the family at an early age.

By just having a higher degree of education, these children will blow open doors in the future that can assist them and their families in escaping poverty.



Crime and Violence

One of the main reasons El Salvador continues to have a high poverty rate in 2023 is crime and violence. Even though crime and violence are at the lowest levels in over 30 years, the impact it had in the daily lives of most Salvadorans, especially those living in poverty, continues.

Most families or individuals living in poverty could only afford to reside in areas with high crime and violence numbers. Living in these areas meant having less access to employment and proper education. They are also more likely to be extorted by the gangs in these areas making it even harder to make a decent living.

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

Compared to previous years, claims of crime and violence in El Salvador are down significantly in 2023. However, it will take time for better employment and education resources to reach these areas.

In summary, crime and violence prevented many people from gaining proper employment and education; and that continues today, even with improved security and safety levels. This issue keeps the poverty cycle alive.



Governmental Corruption

Corruption by public officials has affected the levels of poverty in El Salvador. Over the last 30 or more years, the nation has experienced numerous corruption cases involving top government officials.

This public money might have been utilized to help people out of poverty. Instead, these funds wound up in the possession of degenerate public officials that used them to enhance their own lives and their family's benefit.

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.

  • Ex-president Paco Flores died while on house arrest awaiting trial.

  • Ex-president Tony Saca is serving time in jail for taking public funds for personal gain.

  • Ex-presidents Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren have been accused of corruption by Salvadoran authorities; and 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. In our own town of Cangrejera, funds were set aside to tar the main road and the money wound up being embezzled so the project was marked as complete but we still have a dirt road.



Lack of Opportunities

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

Some employers will hesitate to hire an individual based on the location the person lives in. 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.

With tourism levels increasing and more people investing in El Salvador, more work opportunities are becoming available but most people lack the education and experience for these roles. Education and training programs are integral components to help break the poverty cycle.



What needs to change?

With all the change that has happened in El Salvador over the past four years, I feel really hopeful for the future of this country. Although some of these issues remain, the gangs and corruption are no longer issues and there are more opportunities for higher paying jobs.


Now that the country’s security has improved, the government needs to create opportunities for individuals currently living in poverty to get better jobs and get a better education. The education system needs to change to allow the new generations to get better educated and start critical thinking, so they will likely never live in poverty. Thankfully, Bukele is already addressing this.


On September 8, 2022, the president launched “My New School,” a project that consists of a profound and comprehensive change in the national education system and that includes the repair and remodeling of at least 5,150 schools and the construction of new schools. This will also incorporate components focused on student health, technology in the classroom, teacher training, early childhood care, and curriculum renewal.

Added to this initiative is the delivery of more than a million tablets and computers with programs and internet installed that the government of President Bukele has made to students in the public education system. The real impact of these changes will begin to be seen in 10-15 years.

Lastly, the Salvadoran minimum wage needs to increase to levels that allow families and individuals to get ahead financially. 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 but I know that we can make a difference right here, right now!

Help support our project in Cangrejera by donating today! We have so much we are working on from building a website for our local community to building homes for those in severe poverty. Our educational workshops will help set people up for greater success and make sure they have the support they need to break free from the poverty cycle. We will be sharing more details of our home building projects in 2023 on this blog and through our Facebook account, please follow us to stay in the loop.

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