Mexico received more bad economic news Friday with a report that shows poverty is steadily on the rise.
The number of Mexicans living in poverty grew to 52 million in 2010, up by more than 3 million people from two years earlier, the report says. That means 46.2% of the population lives in poverty.
Within that group, 11.7 million people live in extreme poverty, a figure that held steady over the same period.
The report was produced by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, an autonomous but federally financed agency, and represents the state's most comprehensive study of poverty to date.
The government, which has sought to portray the country's economic standing in an especially optimistic light, blamed the poverty numbers on the global financial crisis that sent Mexico into recession in 2009 and the worldwide hike in food prices.
"This government like no other has sought to give opportunity to the poor," President Felipe Calderon said in response to the report.
Heriberto Felix Guerra, who as minister of social development is in charge of poverty-reduction programs, also defended the government's efforts, saying the administration took steps to contain the damage from the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009, which started in the United States, Mexico's most important economic partner.
"It would be irresponsible to deny the impact of global conditions" on Mexican poverty, he said, "but it would also be irresponsible not to recognize our achievements in recovering from the worst financial crisis in memory."
But social development and human rights groups criticize the Calderon administration for what they say is a failure to make poverty reduction a priority.
"Behind these figures are people with stories of injustice, dispossession, discrimination and insecurity," Alberto Herrera, director of Amnesty International in Mexico, said in a statement. "Millions of people who live in poverty cannot continue to wait" for the government to take action.
The council defines poverty as a monthly earning in urban zones of less than 2,114 pesos, or about $180. Extreme poverty is below 978 pesos, or about $83.
The council measures poverty based not only on income but also on access to food, education, healthcare, housing and basic services.
The report noted that access to healthcare had improved but access to food had declined, with nearly a quarter of the population insufficiently fed. Household income also fell about 12% between 2008 and 2010.