Almost half of households with children in Latin America and the Caribbean struggle to make ends meet

Socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 disproportionately affects families with children, UNICEF-supported survey finds.

10 March 2022
Mother with her baby on the lap.
UNICEF/UN0503048/Rey de Castro

PANAMA CITY, 10 March 2022 – Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, 46 per cent of households with children in eleven Latin American countries and the Eastern Caribbean only have enough savings to cover their basic needs for two weeks or less, according to a new regional survey conducted by UNICEF and the applied research organization IMPACT Initiatives. Around one in eight families only have enough financial resources for one day. 

Households with children find themselves in a more precarious situation than those without children. Around 34 per cent of households without children have two weeks or less of savings – 12 percentage points lower than those with children. The survey also showed that households with children are more likely than those without children to rely on informal employment as their main source of income.

Over the course of the pandemic, the number of families going without enough to eat has skyrocketed. In the survey, 50 per cent of households with children reported having to skip meals, up from 23 per cent in 2020. However, not all households are affected in the same way. Half of the poorest families with children have reduced the portion of food on their plate, compared to just one fifth of the richest.

“The livelihoods of almost half of the region’s families with children are hanging by a thread,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “They live day to day in survival mode and can’t afford to make plans beyond the next two weeks. Without support, more children and their families will fall further into poverty, and our societies and economies will pay the price for years to come.”

When Latin America and the Caribbean went into lockdown at the start of the pandemic, many governments in the region were quick to scale up their social protection programmes. However, two years into the crisis, families have less access to support even as their needs persist. According to the survey, 31 per cent of households with children currently receive some form of government support, down from 41 per cent in 2020.

During the pandemic, UNICEF has provided technical and financial assistance to governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to adapt and expand their social protection programmes, with a focus on families with children. UNICEF has also implemented cash transfer programmes for some of the most vulnerable families, including migrants, and generated evidence to inform social policies across the region.

“While economies are starting to recover from COVID-19, children are still struggling with the socioeconomic shock, especially those in the poorest families. The pandemic continues to take a toll on their education, health, nutrition, and safety. Now is not the time to cut support but to invest in children and put them at the heart of the region’s recovery,” said Jean Gough.

UNICEF urges governments to continue expanding social protection programmes for families with children. Investing in strong social protection systems that work towards the universalization of child benefits can help lift families out of economic distress and prepare them for future shocks.

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Note to editors:

Household-level data collection was conducted by phone in two rounds in 11 countries (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay) and the Eastern Caribbean. The first round collected data in September 2020 and the second round collected data between November 2021 and January 2022. Results from Brazil are forthcoming.

Media contacts

Laurent Duvillier
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 3017393
Tel: + 507 6169 9886
Carolyn McCaffrey
Communication Specialist (Advocacy)
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 6857-2243

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