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Perception of Inflation in Latin America

Dollar bill sitting atop other country currency bills

In early July, Panamanian citizens orchestrated country-wide street closures and rallies in front of public institutions to protest skyrocketing inflation costs. What on the surface was a public display of growing discontent over rising inflation was in reality the final straw for many people feeling neglected by government institutions. 

With an inflation rate of 5.2% in June—up from 2.6% in December 2021—people are calling for economic fairness. 

However, this is only the beginning of their concerns, which are deeply rooted in systemic inequities, institutional distrust, underrepresentation in policymaking, and so much more. 

When governments seek to address, mitigate, and create solutions to various crises, it is vitally important to consider not only the public concern at hand, but the deep-rooted sources of discontent.

Although surveys and certain traditional methods might shed some light on these important topics, it is critical leaders invest in real-time data solutions that illuminate complex narratives and detect warning signs—resulting in early intervention and remediation.

Panamanian Protests Fueled by Long-Standing Discontent

Periods of global upheaval—such as the one we are currently experiencing—allow for destabilizing conditions. For many countries worldwide, that means contending with the problem of inflation, which has a significant impact on people who are already economically insecure. 

Just as the world was recovering from “the worst economic crisis in decades” brought on by the pandemic, Russian warfare spiked already skyrocketing inflation rates—compromising its place as a supplier of a quarter of global wheat production.

With profound equality gaps, Panama’s richest 10% receive more than a third (37.3%) of the national income—nearly 13 times more than the poorest 40%.

As energy prices soared and food costs followed suit, wage gaps have widened and food insecurity has become rampant—especially in developing nations, which spend nearly 40% of consumer budgets on food.

Similar trends are evident in global economies such as Panama’s, which—although, by some standards, are considered “stable”—has experienced an exacerbation of pre-existing inequities since the COVID-19 pandemic.

With profound equality gaps, Panama’s richest 10% receive more than a third (37.3%) of the national income—nearly 13 times more than the poorest 40%.

More than 75% of Panamanian citizens find this lopsided income distribution to be unfair, and 82.7% say they feel the country is governed by “a few powerful groups in their own benefit,” according to The Conversation, a network of non-profit media outlets.

As such, citizens grossly distrust the government (77.2%), political parties (87.5%), the judiciary (75.9%), the National Assembly (84.2%), and each other (74.2%)—and with demonstrated collusion between political and economic powers, Panamanians often feel excluded and underrepresented in vital conversations and decisions that involve them, according to The Conversation.

Additionally, $35 billion in tax evasions and patterns of corruption related to COVID-19 pandemic management underscore ongoing crises of public resources and overall honesty, it continues.

The protests in Panama followed similar demonstrations in other parts of Latin America, including Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru. 

“While the protests in Ecuador appear to be Latin America’s first major political upheaval linked to the current gas and food inflation—a vestige of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine—they are unlikely to be the region’s last,” Foreign Policy wrote in its July edition of its Latin America newsletter. 

All of these underlying crises have compounded over time and significantly contributed to the uprisings we are currently witnessing.

Real-Time Data to Identify Changes & Guide Proactive Intervention

Although Panamanian citizens are currently protesting inflationary pressures, they seek broader remediation to multipronged issues of inequity, corruption, resourcing, and more, through tax reform, unemployment insurance, inclusive policy making, and other lasting changes.

When addressing such crises, it is crucial public leaders not only mitigate immediate concerns, but devise permanent solutions.

For years, Panamanian citizens have shown signs of unrest—for example, through protests opposing constitutional reforms in 2019—making it unsurprising that people’s frustrations have boiled over

That said, in addition to responding to such glaring problems, it is paramount that government leaders also monitor for early warning signs of civic unrest and proactively address the public’s concerns.

For instance, reacting to constitutional reform concerns in 2019 may have positively altered societal feelings, in contrast with the compounding crises and civil unrest we are currently witnessing. 

When addressing such crises, it is crucial public leaders not only mitigate immediate concerns, but devise permanent solutions.

However, in order to effectively respond to—and anticipate—such crises, world leaders must have full visibility over nuanced attitudes, narratives, concerns, and complaints of constituents—real-time data that surveys and other traditional methods lack.

Social understanding software such as the Citibeats platform makes this possible.

Collecting unstructured data from social media, discussion forums, blog posts, and other digital platforms, Citibeats generates actionable insights and trends regarding the most pressing populational concerns—from fears regarding inflation, institutional distrust, the economy, climate change and so much more.

Customizable by region, gender, and other specifiers, insights are displayed on a real-time dashboard 90 days faster than traditional methods, and fluctuate constantly as new trends unfold.

This revolutionizes global leadership, empowering decision makers with full visibility into complex issues—such as the crises in Panama—as well as early warning signs of societal changes which guide immediate intervention and proactive remediation. 

Citibeats’ Perception of Inflation Model

The Citibeats platform detects such nuanced changes via social indicators—monitors that identify a variety of terms and expressions reflecting civic unrest, polarization, distrust, and perception of inflation.

 


Structural Reasons
  • Trade - When 2022 started, the World Bank published very optimistic economic perspectives for Panama. However, Panamanian citizens expressed that they didn’t believe that an increase in GDP would affect their lives, due to their perceived unequal distribution of resources.
  • Employment: Increased complaints about unemployment pay, people do not feel secure enough to make long-time investments, due to the fear of losing their jobs and not receiving economic support.
Conjuntural Implications
  • Health: President Cortizo traveled to Houston for medical checks, fueling the conversations about the quality of the healthcare system and health inequality.
  • Tourism: tourism started declining due to protests. Many citizens believe that tourism has no positive impact on their economies, following the structural pattern that had already been expressed in January 2022.

 

In particular, the perception of inflation model utilizes a set of expressions and keywords to identify citizens’ online expressions of fear that prices will increase or purchasing power will decrease.

Although rate of inflation can be calculated quantitatively via the Consumer Price Index, such conventional metrics do not reflect how citizens perceive and feel about inflation—a significant influence on their consumption, saving, and investment habits.

Whether these perceptions prompt long lines at supermarkets or spark fretful conversations on social media, Citibeats harvests relevant online data and intelligently generates insights about regions, demographics, and communities in which inflation is a dominant concern.

 

Panama has been experiencing increases in Perception of Inflation of +70% since July

Chart showing increases in perception of inflation since July - with Panama leading with +70%

 

In fact, this metric has been experiencing strong fluctuations since the beginning of July 2022, particularly in Latin America. In Panama, perception of inflation has spiked by 70% in the first half of July—directly reflected by the country’s unprecedented protests.

Beyond obvious reasons for Panamanian unrest, the perception of inflation indicator is vital in times of protest because it provides insight into conjunctural implications and structural reasons for unrest.

 

Perception of Inflation in Panama (October ‘21 - July ‘22) and Topics Peaking
Chart showing perception of inflation in Panama from October 2021 to July 2022 with Tourism and Trade leading the way with Employment and Health trailing

 

For instance, the platform detected that Panamanian health and tourism data trends were two conjunctural implications—angering citizens enough to protest in the streets. Namely, when Panama President Laurentino Cortizo traveled to Houston, Texas for medical appointments, this fueled conversations about the quality of Panama’s healthcare system and health inequality. In addition, with tourism declining due to uprisings, many Panamanian citizens have voiced the belief that tourism has no positive impact on their economies—a sentiment following a structural pattern that had already been expressed in January.

The monitor also reflected that trade and employment were significant structural contributors to the protests—underlyingly culminating over the years. Although the World Bank previously forecasted optimistic economic perspectives for Panama in early 2022, citizens expressed they didn’t believe an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) would affect their lives due to their perceived unequal distribution of resources. Additionally, an uptick in complaints regarding unemployment pay reflects that people do not feel secure enough to make long-term investments due to fear of job loss and lack of economic support.

These complex insights into prevalent trends serve as critical warning signs for countries such as Panama—empowering immediate detection of societal changes and proactive intervention.

During a time of geopolitical turmoil—including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflationary pressures, post-pandemic economic aftershocks, and more—it is more crucial than ever that global leaders leverage real-time data that reflects the complex issues that communities face.

By implementing data-driven strategies informed by these revolutionary models, governments can simultaneously respond to nuanced social issues and guard against potential disruptions. 

Real-time data-driven strategies empower global governments to create more inclusive policies, nurture public trust, and guide necessary changes.

 

Citibeats leverages ethical AI for social understanding. Gathering and analyzing unstructured data from social media comments, blog posts, forums, and more, our Sustainability and Social Risk Monitors provide insight into millions of unfolding conversations regarding inflation, protests, food shortages, and more—empowering world leaders to develop data-driven strategies and inclusive policies. 

Schedule a demo today to learn more.