According to the government's own statistics, 20% of the population (about 8m people) lives on less than one US dollar a day:"Marc" said:Neither do I believe that most Argentine people live in dire misery. Yes, I've seen the Villas Miserias. But does that represent most Argentines? I think not. Yes, the street begging is a shock at first, particularly the very very young children.
These are levels of poverty only to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. I don't know how these people keep body and soul together. Only 5% of the households, as I believe someone told me, takes in more than 5000 pesos a month (i.e. 1700 USD). That's your middle class. The other 95% is simply poor, though here of course we make distinctions between the desperately indigent (the bottom 20%) and those less so. What is said of Haiti can be said of Argentina: poverty is a condition people aspire towards.
What continues to amaze me is that most foreigners I've encountered in Argentina are blissfully oblivious of what life is like for the locals. Look around you in Buenos Aires: street vendors who stand the whole day selling scarves, socks, whatever, and never seem to make a single sale: it suggests how difficult life is for people, and the lack of viable economic alternatives.
I'm not trying to present an excessively negative picture, but Argentina's prospects are bleak. And this didn't just come out of nowhere, from the meltdown of five years ago. It reflects, rather, the inability of Argentina to modernise itself throughout the 20th century, to make the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy -- partly because of domestic problems, and partly because of international circumstances beyond Argentina's control. It is a national tragedy. This is the real reason why Argentineans look so beaten and fatalistic at times.
Earlier this year, a book titled "A History of Argentina in the 20th Century" was published in Argentina; the author is Luis Alberto Romero; the book can be found in local BsAs bookshops both in Spanish and English (cost: 32 pesos). I recommend it to foreigners living in Argentina: it affords a historical perspective on the country's present predicament, of which lawlessness and indigence are particular symptoms.