Spain's wealth gap widens in economic crisis

MADRID Thu Oct 10, 2013 11:22am EDT

A beggar holds a plastic cup as he asks for money in central Madrid, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Susana Vera

A beggar holds a plastic cup as he asks for money in central Madrid, October 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Susana Vera

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MADRID (Reuters) - The gap between Spain's rich and poor widened in 2012 as extreme poverty spread and the number of millionaires jumped, according to two reports.

The number of severely poor people has doubled since the beginning of the economic slump in 2008, according to Caritas, a global charity run by the Catholic Church, in its 2012 annual report published on Thursday.

More than 6 percent of Spain's population, or around 3 million people, lived on 307 euros ($410) a month or less last year, Caritas said.

The top fifth most wealthy in Spain were seven and a half times richer than the bottom 20 percent, the deepest divide in Europe, Caritas said.

Meanwhile, the number of dollar millionaires in Spain rose to 402,000 last year, up 13 percent from a year earlier, according to Credit Suisse's report on global wealth, published on Wednesday.

Spain's economy has shrunk by around 7.5 percent since a property bubble burst in 2008, leaving millions of low-skilled laborers out of work while the government slashed spending on health, education and some social services and raised taxes to tame a soaring public deficit.

"The report paints a picture of a more fractured, more divided society, where the so-called middle class is disappearing and a minority has access to wealth, goods and services while the majority sits outside," said Sebastian Mora, the secretary general for Caritas in Spain.

Austerity measures have sparked protests but none big enough to destabilize the government.

Spain had the second highest unemployment rate in Europe in August at 26.2 percent, just behind Greece, according to official European Union data, and has yo-yoed in and out of recession for five years.

Close to 2 million families depend on state pensions, jobless benefits and other state funds to survive.

The economy is expected to have returned to growth in the third quarter but economists are concerned the recovery is based on strong exports which will take years to trickle down to the battered domestic economy.

(The story has been filed again to correct and state 402,000 dollar millionaires, not 402.)

(Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and David Cowell)

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