I went to bed last night feeling sort of terrible. Someone gently pointed out to me that my 45% unemployment statistic was faulty. I remember someone telling me 45% and I took it at face value. I checked last night and discovered the real unemployment rate in Ecuador is about 9%, which is about the same or even a little better than what it is in the US.
But then someone else pointed out that the underemployment rate in Ecuador is quite high, anywhere from 48% to 58%, and this is most likely what I heard. Here is the graph for the three largest cities in Ecuador:
We have a similar situation in US, but not as severe. The official unemployment rate is currently around 10%. But this number does not include people who have run out of unemployment benefits or have stopped looking. The “effective” unemployment rate is estimated to be around 16.8% and includes underemployed people.
A couple of important lessons for me: I should check my facts before I write something in a blog post. But more importantly, it is interesting how hearing a statistic like that influences my thinking about a country or culture. In this case, city life was viewed through a lens of “45% unemployment” and I drew my own conclusions. It turns out that I was not really far off in my assessment. People have to resort to additional work like street selling in order to make ends meet even though technically they are employed.
Another evidence of perception versus reality: I have heard that Ecuador is one of the poorest of countries in South America. So I decided to check this out. This is most definitely not the case. Of course, it depends on which statistics you look at. A list which combines several critieria lists Bolivia, Paraguay, and Suriname as the three poorest countries in South America, and in some lists Ecuador is not mentioned.
So, this whole subject leads me to question my own attitudes about prosperity versus poverty. Here I live in a country with such boundless resources that, apart from western Europe and parts of Asia, it is common to think of the rest of the world as poor by comparison.
But what is “poor”? I heard it said that “‘Poor’ is a state of mind, while ‘broke’ is a lack of money.” In my travels to the “poorer” countries, I realize that many people who lack resources are not really poor because they don’t have a poverty mindset, they just lack resources. Contrast those in our “rich” country that, despite an abundance of resources, never feel that they have enough. Now that is a poverty mindset.