Even before Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, Haiti had a distressed economy.
It is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, with around 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line and 54 percent living in abject poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook. More than two-thirds of the labor force are believed to not have formal jobs, and just 62.1 percent of adults over age 15 are literate, according to the United Nations Human Development Report.
Haiti also has among the world’s lowest levels of gross domestic product per capita.
Despite the destruction wreaked by multiple tropical storms in 2008, in many ways Haiti’s economy and infrastructure-building seemed to be turning a corner in recent years, aided by international support and debt relief programs.
In fact, Haiti was one of only two Caribbean countries expected to grow in 2009. There were hopes of a tourism revival, reinforced by the announcement that a new Comfort Inn would open there this May. In a sign of its growing structural sophistication, Haiti even recently announced that it would begin collecting better national statistics, with the help of the International Monetary Fund, so that it could better assess and calibrate its economic policies.
But, as Mark Leon Goldberg writes in The Daily Beast, “This is Haiti’s tragedy: Just as the trend lines shift in the right direction, calamity strikes.”
Update: Here are some theories from Tyler Cowen about why Haiti has remained so poor.