The 2001-2002 Argentine financial crisis culminated in the collapse of the 1991 Convertibility Plan, the freezing of bank deposits, and the biggest foreign debt default in world economic history. By May 2002, 40% of the total workforce was either unemployed or underemployed.
Social unrest during and following the financial crisis principally took the form of social protests. However, given that these were common in Argentina long before the financial crisis hit, there is some debate as to whether it was the principal cause of contention. Much of the research highlights a combination of broader factors, including already high unemployment rates, poverty, lack of labour union support to the unemployed and repressive and clientelist political practices. Furthermore, the protests of December 2001 were not a homogeneous phenomenon, but involved different social sectors, each with different motivations and behaviour, with much of the protest being either fomented or taken advantage of by political groups.
In terms of wider social impacts, the crisis had greater effects on the use of health services than of education services. It also appears to have resulted in higher levels of family violence, alcoholism, and crime.
The principle policy response to the crisis was the ‘Programa Jefas y Jefes de Hogar Desocupados’ (Programme for Unemployed Heads of Family) which aimed to provide direct income support for families with dependents for whom the head had become unemployed due to the crisis. The programme was successful insofar as it reduced aggregate unemployment by about 2.5%, but there was substantial leakage and incomplete coverage of those eligible. It has also been criticised as a temporary tool to control social unrest, rather than a longer-term policy aimed at strengthening workers’ rights.