Although Costa Rica is a place with a high life expectancy and has improved healthcare coverage and education, the country still has problems with poverty, inequality and corruption, according to the Estado de la Nación.
The annual report is in its 18th year, and documents the sustainable human development of both Costa Rica and Central America based on 2011 statistics from various organizations. It is the work of 85 researchers and 4,750 participants.
“Moderate growth and monetary stability, but an environmental management plan, a society and a political system in serious problems. This is, in short, the story of 2011,” opened the synopsis of the report.
The institution that must fix Costa Rica’s problems, the government, is plagued by corruption, instability in personnel and mismanagement by local officials, researchers found.
Although the study says that officials in President Laura Chinchilla’s administration are more experienced overall than those in previous governments, it also finds that this government is the most unstable of the past four.
The study indicates that 15 of the original 21 ministers and 17 vice-ministers in the Chinchilla administration have left or been removed from their posts in less than two years. Many of these departures were fueled by public accusations of corruption.
Researchers also found that these problems are causing a rift between the government and the increasingly disenchanted general population.
A 2012 survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project indicates that the general population’s faith in the government as a system is at the lowest point it has been since before the first poll in 1978. That survey found that 56 percent of those polled still believe in the system. That is down 7 percentage points from the last survey in 2010.
Researchers also tracked the number of protests per year since 1995 and found that 2011 had the third highest number of protests. With 632 protests, 2011 starkly contrasts with the previous six years where there were never more than 400 in any given year. By this measure, former president Oscar Arias’ tenure was one of the most tranquil periods in recent history.
The study, which focuses mostly on elevating the population’s standard of living, also condemns the legislature for introducing laws that increase each person’s duty to the country, but do not open financial opportunities up to the poor.
Researchers also found many municipal governments to be lacking in providing services and a satisfactory overall standard of living for the residents. The best cantons for these areas are primarily suburbs of San José in the Central Valley. The worst cantons are concentrated on the Caribbean coast.
With such a government, the study says that developing growth and stability in the economy is one of the biggest challenges for the country.
The most urgent issue the government must address is overall growth of the national debt, researchers found. The study says that the national debt has almost hit 45 percent of the gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services.
Researchers said that many of the problems are the same international issues that the entire world is facing.
However, the debt has been growing overall since September 2008 even though it had phases of increasing and decreasing, the study said.
More concerning is that the public spending has persistently remained higher than tax revenue, it added.
Additionally, most indicators show that growth is decelerating in production and most industries overall last year. Unemployment has barely budged, and the new jobs the majority of jobs are concentrated in 10 of Costa Rica’s 81 cantons, it added.
Researchers found that the environment has become more volatile over the past decade and that natural disasters are leaving more death and destruction in their wake.
Floods have especially become more dangerous since 2000, killing five times more people and causing 242 percent more damages to buildings. The most affected areas have been the cantons of Puntarenas, San Carlos and Pococí, said the report.
Closely related to that problem, the study also says that less than a quarter of cantons have an adequate urban development plan.
Many of the damages from disasters happen in areas where buildings are close together while on ground susceptible to floods, it said.
The study urges more regional governments to develop better plans for land use in their districts.
Overall, the study commends the government’s efforts to protect the forests, water supplies and the environment, but it also says that more must be done to conserve the environment and natural resources.
In 2011, Costa Rica continued to show progress in human development for the average of the population, especially in the areas of health and education, researchers found.
However, achievements in human development were met with a decrease in social investment as the sector fell 0.5 percent between 2010 and 2011, it added.
An analysis showed that the public education programs suffered the most with a 6.3 percent decrease, particularly in general education that includes incentives for studies and professional training.
The country also needs to improve upon building the educational level of citizens, the report said. For example the average schooling for those ages 18 to 64 is 8.9 years. When it comes to the upper and middle classes, more than 85 percent of these populations have a secondary education. Yet, a little more than 20 percent of industrial workers and less than 10 percent of agricultural workers have received high school diplomas.
In the workforce, unemployment has risen to a rate of 7.7 percent, and there is insufficient economic recovery to reverse the crisis in employment, said the report.
Those with jobs are not getting their legal rights, the report said. One out of five laborers don’t receive aguinaldos, the mandatory Christmas bonus, and three out of 10 do not have paid vacations or sick leave. Persons in the Brunca and Chorotega regions along the Pacific coast are the most vulnerable to these situations, with neither of these areas getting more than 70 percent compliance with the law, said the report.
The Estado de la Nación report highlights the fact that as the country becomes more modernized and grows economically, it will create a gap between those with access to opportunities and those without. The result will be more poverty, it said.
A 2011 national survey revealed that 287,367 households live in poverty and 85,557 live in extreme poverty, a situation where families lack the capability to perform basic abilities or enjoy fundamental rights, it said.
This equates to more than a million poor people in the country and another 336,000 worse off than the poor, said the report.
Fortunately, households with older adults are decreasing in poverty, due to pensions given out by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. However, elderly living alone do so in poor housing where the ceilings, floors and outer walls are deteriorating, said the report. They also don’t possess technology, it added.
As inequality grows, the barrier between social barriers is increasingly harder to overcome, the report said.
It is also shown that as of last year, Costa Rica is reaching a point where institutions are “out of gas” when it comes to dealing with social welfare problems as resources are declining. The likely and most effective solution is to increase the efficiency and quality of institutions. They should also be evaluated and held accountable for faults, report creators said.
The challenge is to avoid budget cuts in the coming years that would push more of the population into poverty, and integrate all residents in developmental improvements, the report said.
By Aaron Knapp and Kayla Pearson