Economic research suggests that individuals living in poverty face an increased risk of adverse outcomes, such as poor health and criminal activity, both of which may lead to reduced participation in the labor market. While the mechanisms by which poverty affects health are complex, some research suggests that adverse health outcomes can be due, in part, to limited access to health care as well as greater exposure to environmental hazards and engaging in risky behaviors. For example, some research has shown that increased availability of health insurance such as Medicaid for low-income mothers led to a decrease in infant mortality. Additionally, exposure to higher levels of air pollution from living in urban areas close to highways can lead to acute health conditions. Data suggest that engaging in risky behaviors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, a sedentary life-style, and a low consumption of nutritional foods, can account for some health disparities between lower and upper income groups. The economic research we reviewed also points to links between poverty and crime. For example, one study indicated that higher levels of unemployment are associated with higher levels of property crime. The relationship between poverty and adverse outcomes for individuals is complex, in part because most variables, like health status, can be both a cause and a result of poverty. These adverse outcomes affect individuals in many ways, including limiting their development of the skills, abilities, knowledge, and habits necessary to fully participate in the labor force. Research shows that poverty can negatively affect economic growth by affecting the accumulation of human capital and rates of crime and social unrest. Economic theory has long suggested that human capital--that is, the education, work experience, training, and health of the workforce--is considered one of the fundamental drivers of economic growth. The conditions associated with poverty can work against this human capital development by limiting individuals' ability to remain healthy and develop skills, in turn decreasing the potential to contribute talents, ideas, and even labor to the economy. An educated labor force, for example, is better at learning, creating and implementing new technologies. Economic theory suggests that when poverty affects a significant portion of the population, these effects can extend to the society at large and produce slower rates of growth. Although historically research has focused mainly on the extent to which economic growth alleviates poverty, some recent empirical studies have begun to demonstrate that higher rates of poverty are associated with lower rates of growth in the economy as a whole. For example, areas with higher poverty rates experience, on average, slower per capita income growth rates than low-poverty areas.
Colombia has made significant progress in its struggle against poverty, but the gap between conditions in urban and rural communities remains wide. The main problems the country faces are concentrated in rural areas, where about a quarter of its nearly 47 million people live. Poverty, social injustice and violence continue to hinder the process of sustainable rural development.
For more than 40 years, Colombia has been ravaged by conflict and violence involving outlawed armed groups and drug cartels. Although the security situation has improved, yielding economic and social improvements, negotiations with the rebel forces have not yet resulted in a permanent peace agreement.
According to 2009 figures, poverty affected 46 per cent of the total population, and 64 per cent in rural areas. Extreme poverty affected 29 per cent overall and 40 per cent in rural areas. Today in rural Colombia, more than 7 million people are poor and 2 million live in extreme poverty. Many of the latter – including small-scale farmers and members of indigenous and Afro-Latino descendant communities – have been displaced from their land and lost their assets as a result of violence and illegal occupation.
In June 2011, the Colombian Government enacted the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which calls for monetary compensation to people victimized by the conflict and returns land to thousands of displaced families. Still, economic inequality remains a major issue in rural Colombia, where large landholders control vast areas of underutilized land. Altogether, an estimated million rural families are landless. Half of them are employed as labourers by owners of medium and large-sized farms. The rest have developed various survival strategies; many are employed in services, commerce and other non-agricultural activities.
There are also large discrepancies in standards of living between the regions. The poorest populations are in the departments of Boyacá, Cauca, Chocó, Córdoba, Huila, Nariño, Sucre and Tolima. Poverty is particularly severe in remote rural areas and conflict zones. Limited access to schooling exacerbates poverty, and illiteracy is high in rural communities.
The importance of agriculture as a source of income has dwindled over the last 50 years in Colombia. Poor rural people are no longer typically small-scale farmers who struggle to increase their crop productivity. Instead, most rural households are involved in microenterprises. But whether they farm or pursue other activities, rural women and men are held back by limited access to productive assets – including land, irrigation and financial services – and to social services, education, technical assistance and skills training. Lack of infrastructure prevents them from engaging with competitive markets.
Women and young people, who have the most limited access to assets and resources, are especially vulnerable to poverty. Afro-Latino communities and indigenous peoples, located mainly in remote rural areas, are among the country's poorest people.