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Social Protection

Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems


Updated by José Francisco Ortiz , Helmut Schwarzer on 13.06.2014

There is wide heterogeneity in terms of social protection in the Americas Region. Several Latin American countries are among the first in the world to have created formal social security schemes in the early 20th century, among which Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Furthermore, almost all design principles for formal social security schemes can be found in the region: contributory schemes; social assistance policies; non-contributory benefits; universal or targeted; fully-funded, partially funded or pay-as-you-go; publicly administered or privately run; and mandatory or voluntary affiliation schemes. Some countries in the region have a very high degree of coverage while in others, less than 20 per cent of the working force contributes to social security on a regular basis.

This variety of designs and outcomes reflects a very vivid history, demonstrates significant creativity and pays testament to the strengthening of democracy in the region. In the last decades, the Americas have generated some of the most interesting innovations in terms of social protection tools, be it within the scope of contributory schemes, the application of non-contributory principles, or the design of new, highly effective social assistance programmes.

Despite persisting poverty, income inequality, the economic crisis and recurrent environmental disasters, as well as the ongoing challenge of social protection coverage extension, recent results have been positive. Since the year 2000, coverage has been continuously expanding and more people now have access to a social protection that mitigates poverty and risk. Thus, for example today (2012) more than six out of ten Latin-American and Caribbean urban workers have access to health and/or pension systems, 12.7 per cent more than in 2000. 21 countries in the region operate a conditional cash transfer programme covering between 10 and 25 per cent of the population, mainly families with children. All countries operate a contributory pension system and 26 countries additionally a non-contributory pension scheme. Thus, on average 56.1 per cent of people in retirement age receive a pension. However, regarding the access to social protection, there are still large differences between countries (and sub-regions) as well as inequalities among different groups within a country. (Schwarzer et al. 2014, forthecoming)


Read more on social security in the Americas by clicking on the links below: