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New Report Shows Over Half of Argentina's Population Living Below Poverty Line - 2002-08-22

More than half of the population in Argentina is now living in poverty, as the nation slides deeper into its economic depression. That is just one of the alarming facts in a poverty report released Thursday.

Every night in Buenos Aires, minutes after someone sets a garbage bag on the curb in front of his home, someone else rips it open and looks for a meal.

Legions of hungry and homeless spend their nights treasure hunting in someone else's trash, and the numbers released by the government Thursday tell just how widespread poverty has become.

The report shows 18.5 million Argentines are now living below the poverty line. That is 53 percent of this country's population.

One of every four Argentines is considered indigent, barely making a dollar a day, too poor to buy the food he or she needs. And the report released by the census office also says 4 million children are living in poverty - almost three-fourths of all children in Argentina.

Every week the protests grow bigger and louder here, as the country sinks deeper into crisis.

Argentina's unemployment rate recently hit 21.3 percent - an all-time high.

Those who do work earn pesos that have lost 70 percent of their value since the Argentine currency was devalued last year.

Most people who put their life savings into banks still can't touch the money, because it remains locked in the corralito, the nationwide banking freeze.

"Its very bad, very bad," one woman says. "They're robbing our money."

Last week, President Eduardo Duhalde and Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna sent a letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund. It was a formal request for a bailout, and the Argentine leaders are waiting for a response.

But critics say an emergency loan may do more long-term harm than good.The IMF wants Argentina to cut spending. And less spending on social programs could mean more poverty.

Still, as President Duhalde has said, there is no Plan B.

His government hopes to hear from the IMF soon, and insists the emergency loan is the only lifesaver that can rescue Argentina from the worst crisis in its history.