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People, Social Issues

Urban poverty, coffee industry, elite class, San Salvador, national income

Social class remains an important reality of modern El Salvador despite the growth of a significant middle class in San Salvador, the rise of important labor organizations, and increased democratic political participation. The wealthy upper class, which emerged in the late 19th century with the growth of the coffee industry, has traditionally dominated the government and economy, controlling most of the land and political offices. In the mid- to late 20th century the elite class expanded its interests into other agricultural exports, finance, manufacturing, and other economic activities. This class often has been referred to as the Fourteen Families, although the prominent families always exceeded that number and in the 1980s increased to more than 200. According to 1990 figures, the wealthiest 20 percent of Salvadorans received 66 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent received only 4 percent. Some 48 percent of Salvadorans lived in poverty in 1992.

Millions of poor Salvadorans, in rural and urban areas, suffer from inadequate housing, health care, and basic services. Malnutrition is a major problem in much of the country, which depends heavily on imported food. Urban poverty is especially noticeable around San Salvador, where thousands live crowded into miles of shantytowns without electricity, running water, or adequate sanitation. These extensive slums contrast starkly with the walled-in and well-guarded palaces of the wealthy in San Salvador’s elegant Escalon neighborhood.

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