Latin America has been adding more citizens to its pool of middle-income earners at a faster pace than other regions in the world, according to a July Pew Research report compiling the most recent data from 2011. South America, in particular, was one of the three regions with the greatest middle-class expansion between 2001 and 2011, alongside China and Eastern Europe.
The Pew report defines middle income as those who earn between $10 and $20 per day. While this definition of middle income may not translate to developed economies, the measure is based on data from Latin America: Pew used World Bank research showing that once households in Chile, Mexico, and Peru reached $10 a day in per capita income, they have less than a 10 percent chance of sliding back down to lower income groups.
South America’s decade-long progress, while significant, kicked off from a relatively low starting point. In 2001, 72 percent of South Americans were either low-income or poor, and only 16 percent were middle-income. By 2011, the proportion of low-income or poor persons on the continent fell to 53 percent, and the middle-income group went up 11 points to 27 percent, whereas the middle-income group went up by just 2 points in Central America and the Caribbean and in North America. Below, we take a closer look at some of the report's key findings.