The oil wealth that has, within the past 50 years, transformed the Venezuelan economy from an agrarian,
|Exchange rates: Venezuela|
|bolivares (B) per US$1|
|SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].|
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
rural economy to a modern, urban one, has also significantly transformed Venezuelan society. Venezuelans today are more literate (91.1 percent in 1995 as opposed to 30 percent in the 1920s) and have a longer life expectancy (73.07 years in 2000 as opposed to 43 years in 1940). Still, in 1997, 67 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, and poverty appears to be increasing due to inflation and the 70 percent decrease in real wages since the 1980s. Venezuela has made great strides in meeting the basic needs of its citizens since the 1950s, but economic problems since the 1980s have eroded these early successes.
Education is compulsory in Venezuela up to the age of 14, and 75 percent of the country's students are enrolled in its public primary and secondary schools, though there are high rates of absenteeism attributed to poverty. Since the 1980s, educational spending has fallen below the average in South America. In 1983, Venezuela spent 7.4 percent of its GDP on education, but only 3.8 percent in 1998, and low pay has led to teacher shortages.
There are 99 public and private colleges and universities in Venezuela. The public university system in Venezuela has fared better than the lower education system. Venezuela boasts a number of national universities in various states that offer degrees through to the graduate and professional level. There are 2 national universities in Caracas alone. Tuition is free. Promising students are often given scholarships to study at foreign universities.
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage|
|Survey year: 1996|
|Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
The ministry of education has also begun to emphasize the importance of technical and vocational education in secondary schools. A system of adult-education has been developed to teach literacy and job skills to Venezuelans.
Venezuela enjoys some of the highest health standards in South America in terms of infant mortality (26.4 per 1,000 population) and longevity (73.07 life expectancy). Much of this was made possible by government intervention. Much of the population gets its medical care from facilities and hospitals operated by the Venezuelan Social Security Institute. Treatment at the country's clinics is free, though there is a small charge for prescription drugs. At the public hospitals, the poor receive treatment for free, and a small fee is charged to those who can afford to pay it. There is also a public welfare program that provides survivor and old-age pensions, maternity benefits, and payment for work-related accidents and illnesses. The institute finances its activities by a mandatory payment of 12 percent of the salaries of all Venezuelan workers. The government has had great success in implementing programs of prenatal care and children's immunization, improving water and sanitary conditions, and eliminating diseases.
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
The 1999 constitution guarantees to Venezuela's citizens a health-care system that is funded by the government. In 1979, 14 percent of the government's budget was targeted to providing health services, but by 1999, that percentage had fallen to 6 percent of the national budget. A fall in the salaries of health care providers has been accompanied by a decrease in the quantity and quality of services provided. One response to this problem has been for the central government to allow the states to make more decisions about how to spend the country's health care budget. This approach has had some success in improving the delivery of health care in some areas. Another approach, rejected by the Chávez government, called for the privatization of the Venezuelan Social Security Institute.
The urbanization of Venezuelan society since the 1950s has created its own class structures by leaving behind many rural workers, many of whom are poor, illiterate, and undocumented. Some of them live in public housing, others live rent-free in the barrios (slums) of Venezuela's cities, of which there are more than 1,000 in Caracas alone.