Number of Latin Americans in extreme poverty highest since 2008: U.N. agency

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(Reuters) - The number of people living in extreme poverty in Latin America increased in 2017 to the highest level in almost a decade despite an improvement in government social spending policies, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the proportion of people in extreme poverty, which is characterized by lack of access to basic human necessities like food and shelter, rose to 10.2 percent of the population in 2017, or 62 million people, from 9.9 percent in 2016.

The figure is the highest since 2008 and largely due to an economic deterioration in Brazil, which has only begun to rebound in the last year from its worst recession in decades. Brazil has about 200 million people, making it Latin America’s most populous nation.

“We had years of very low economic growth and the impact has been mostly in unemployment,” Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, told Reuters in Santiago, Chile.

Poverty on a more generalized basis declined in Chile, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic from 2012 to 2017, largely due to an increase in work income.

But conditions worsened in Brazil, with extreme poverty rising to 5.5 percent of the population in 2017, from 5.1 percent in the previous year, ECLAC said.

Reporting by Marion Giraldo; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Paul Simao