The Social Inclusion Index

An Overview of the 2014 Social Inclusion Index

As we’ve done since we first launched this index, we define social inclusion in a broad but specific way. We look at the economics of a country and its potential to improve social mobility (GDP growth and poverty rates). We also examine the range of rights (civil, political, women’s, and LGBT), policies (social investment), conditions (access to adequate housing, secondary school enrollment, access to a formal job, financial inclusion), and public attitudes and behavior.

We believe this comprehensive approach provides the best measure of a citizen’s ability to participate meaningfully in the political system and in the broader national community—and thus to realize his or her potential.

And because we know that in the Americas—and not just south of the Rio Grande—the legacy of racism and chauvinism continues to mean that not all opportunities are enjoyed equally, we have, when possible, disaggregated these variables by race/ethnicity and gender. This point is critical. It recognizes that the rising economic tide of the past decade has not lifted all boats equally, and it highlights pockets of the population that need to be targeted for effective, meaningful social inclusion.

Before we discuss some of the comparative conclusions—and before the recommendations that follow on page 67—a few methodological notes.

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First, since this is an annual survey, some of the data from this year is repeated from 2013. This includes the public opinion data provided by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University. LAPOP had survey teams in the field during our development of this year’s index, but unfortunately it was impossible to process the results in time for publication. Repeated from last year is the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Index, which is our measurement of financial inclusion of women. We also relied on the more limited UNDP Human Development Report’s numbers on the percentage of GDP spent on education and health—with one exception: the education spending rates in Honduras. In previous years, we had used a broader number that included pensions, poverty and income distribution programs and investments toward the UN’s millennium development goals.

Second, we updated our composite women’s rights indicator in two ways. We included a measure of whether governments provide tax breaks for childcare—a minimal policy support for a very important element of ensuring women’s participation in the workforce. And, instead of last year’s metric of whether governments provided information on physical or sexual violence against women—an admittedly low threshold—this year we used the rate of femicide per 100,000 women.

The reasons why we selected the original measure and why we had to change it are quite telling—and disturbing. Not all governments provide such basic information on violence against women to the public. And where it is provided—in Bolivia and Colombia, for instance—that information hasn’t been updated for almost a decade: since 2003 in the case of Bolivia; since 2005 in Colombia. We return to this in our recommendations section, where we address the need for governments to take steps to provide such information in an updated, transparent and accessible way.

Third, in conducting our analysis of the World Bank’s Socio-Economic Database for Latin America and the Caribbean (SEDLAC) data, which draws on national surveys, our researcher Danilo Carvalho Moura looked this year at the sampling and methods used by the government bureaus responsible for these national statistical snapshots and found many of them lacking. For one, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Honduras repeat the same data as last year. But even in cases where there is new data, there are some doubts about representativeness. Argentina, Bolivia and Nicaragua did not use a national, representative sample frame. We also have questions about the Bolivia data, particularly in enrollment in secondary school education, which experienced an inexplicable jump this year to 99.3 percent overall, an odd contrast to statistics compiled by the World Bank that list only 77 percent gross enrollment in secondary school as recently as 2011.

Many countries do not include questions of race or ethnicity in their census data, a critical omission that prevents governments from getting an accurate snapshot of society and hobbles social programs. Countries that do not include these questions—at least in the SEDLAC database—include Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras.

In our recommendations section we return to these methodological weaknesses and problems.

Because of the glaring omission of race, and the patchy availability of other data, this year we give the full score and ranking only for the countries for which we had all the data. For comparison purposes, we ranked all the countries across the 10 variables where full sets of data were available; but it must be noted that the comparison doesn’t include some of the most important variables, like race/ethnicity.

Now a few of the conclusions.

First, many of the countries continue to show strong average GDP growth over the 10 years we examine in the index. The best performers were Panama, Argentina (in large part because the span includes their pulling out of their deep recession of 2001), Peru, and Uruguay. The U.S. was at the bottom, a reflection of the Great Recession of 2007–2009, but also of the fact that more developed economies have reached a higher capacity and therefore grow at slower rates.

The nations with the highest percentage increase since last year were Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, followed by smaller but still significant percentage increases in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Panama.

A second conclusion: Uruguay and Chile remained at the regional top in terms of political and civil rights. Despite the gains in democracy, however, some areas of deterioration are evident. Freedom House lists Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay as only partly free; and both Ecuador and Paraguay fell in that think-tank’s rankings this year. Ecuador lost ground because of restrictions on political organizations, and Paraguay’s position slipped following the swift impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo in 2012.

Third, as in years past, there’s a contradiction between the other measures of social inclusion and the results for civil society participation. Those countries with the highest scores in some of the other measures—Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Chile, the U.S.—score the lowest in civil society participation. And some countries that score the highest in civil society participation—for example, Guatemala, Bolivia and Paraguay—rank at the bottom of the index in overall social inclusion.

Does this reverse correlation mean that civil society participation doesn’t belong in social inclusion? For the more inclusive countries, the lack of engagement could mean that people are content (though it could also be more pessimistically interpreted as apathy). In the less inclusive nations, higher rates of participation in civil society, given the historic failures of the state in those countries, could mean that citizens are seeking to fill the gap in constructive ways. Either way, it is difficult to imagine meaningful, sustainable social inclusion without the avenues for participation and advocacy provided by independent civil society. (In this, think Cuba.)

Fourth, there is a strong relationship between the Social Inclusion Index’s measure of women’s rights and women’s perception of government responsiveness and empowerment. El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Paraguay have some of the lowest scores in women’s rights and the lowest scores for women’s personal empowerment and women’s perception of government responsiveness. The connection should surprise no one. But it also points to a potential way in which governments can shift public opinion by actively seeking to address the laws and policies that affect women’s rights, security and ability to participate in the economy as equals.

Recommendations based on these conclusions and other findings, including our two new indices of disability rights and access to justice, start on page 67.

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» How did countries rank last year? Access the 2013 Social Inclusion Index