Another real problem in Latin America and the Caribbean is the lack of employment or of sufficient employment.
In paragraph 71, the bishops note the importance of this factor.
The economically active population of the region is affected by underemployment (42%) and unemployment (9%), while almost half is employed in informal work.
I would note the difficulty of determining underemployment and unemployment. For example, one web page on unemployment gives what it sees as a “World Bank definition. “Youth unemployment refers to the share of the labor force ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment.”
The informal economic sector includes many people who do not work in a recognized workplace. Here in Honduras, it is not uncommon to find people selling in the streets. Every night a woman with her son walk through my neighborhood selling tamales or other food; every day a man sells vegetables and fruits from a wheelbarrow. There’s the woman selling papaya on a corner and a woman selling bananas out of the front room of her home. I’ve seen a number of Guatemalans selling nuts or bedspreads. There are the woman and kids who sell soft drinks or snacks on the busses. The informal economy pervades Honduras and much of Latin America. Where people can’t find work, they often seek small ways to get a little bit of money to survive.
Even formal work is precarious.
Formal work is subject to insecure employment conditions and to the constant pressure of subcontracting, which brings lower wages and lack of protection in the area of social security, preventing many from leading a decent life. In this context, labor unions loose their possibility to defend workers’ rights.
Even if there are good labor laws, the difficulty of enforcing them is compounded by corruption, pay offs, and a judicial system that is overwhelmed by cases.
But the bishops see a few positive signs.
On the other hand, positive and creative responses for confronting this situation can be observed among those affected, who have been undertaking a variety of initiatives, such as microlending, local economic support networks, and fair trade practices.
Microlending can help since the poor can often not find sources for loans that do not charge extravagant interest rates. The formation of cooperatives or other economic arrangements can be helpful.
The bishops also mention “fair trade practices.” Many who grow food or manufacture items for export don’t get fair prices. Sometimes this is compounded by “middle men” – called coyotes here in Honduras – who take their share of the profits, by import restrictions in some importing countries, or by the demand for low prices by consumers. Fair market stores and products have grown significantly in the last few years. Another practice that is not as well-known is “direct marketing” in which buyers in rich nations buy directly from producers in poor nations. There are many examples of this, including the direct export of coffee from San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, through the New Ulm, Minnesota, diocese – an effort which benefits many small farmers.