Under Perón, the number of unionized workers expands as he helps establish the powerful General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Women obtain the right to vote. Government enacts legislation legalizing absolute divorce and granting all benefits of legitimacy to children born out of wedlock. Argentina develops the largest middle class on the continent.
The policy shift toward agricultural production creates a gap in income distribution as the majority of those who work in agriculture labor on tiny plots while the majority of the land is in large estates. Chronic poverty is pervasive, especially in the country's interior.
As the economy starts to languish and import substitution industrialization runs out of steam, urban migration slows. Per capita income falls, and with it the standard of living. The authoritarian phase of government introduces a development model which accentuates income inequality and pays little attention to social needs. The poor stage strikes and riots in a vain attempt to be heard.
Tens of thousands of Argentines leave the country, primarily for Europe and the United States. Argentina witnesses a "brain drain" as scientists, professors, and intellectuals flee the repressive dictatorship. Thousands who do not escape in time "disappear." Argentina is robbed of a potential centrist leadership. Among the urban working class, unemployment soars as many factories close.
The return of democracy accentuates the unequal nature of income distribution. Whereas the incomes of the richest 10 percent increases by almost 60 percent, the incomes of the poorest seven deciles fall by 30 percent. Food riots become increasingly common as rising poverty and high inflation put many foodstuffs out of reach of a growing percentage of the population.
The rate of poverty in the population tops 40 percent. The structure of the labor force changes as female participation increases in a time of rising uncertainty and falling wages. Unemployment reaches and remains in the double digits, peaking above 18 percent in 1995.
The social cost of economic restructuring becomes ever more apparent: Unemployment is high, and crime rates climb. The benefits of economic growth are restricted to industrially active areas. Rural populations migrate from the interior to the overcrowded slums around Buenos Aires and other major cities, contributing to a decline in urban living conditions and rise in rates of urban unemployment.
The generalized collapse of the Argentine economy has a devastating impact on a society long proud of its European style and middle-class mores. More than 50 percent of Argentines now live in poverty; barter replaces some cash exchanges; employment is scarce; and people resort to odd jobs and desperate survival measures. Protests are frequent, and cynicism grows toward the political leadership.
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