Structural Heterogeneity and Poor Microenterprises in Argentina
Marta Bekerman* and Cecilia Rikap**
Date submitted: March 4, 2011. Date accepted: November 22, 2011.

The heterogeneity of the productive structure in Argentina distinguishes sectors with different levels of technological development and accumulation possibilities. This calls into question the orthodox vision of a homogeneous capital structure and highlights the need for sectorspecific policies. The socalled informal sector, mainly composed of microenterprises with little or no surplus, is one of the most vulnerable sectors within the Argentine productive structure. For this reason, we propose to examine the functioning of the informal sector through a survey conducted with 100 poor microenterprises in the south of Buenos Aires. By examining the results of the survey and through an analysis of the public policies that have repercussions for this sector, policy recommendations are suggested that call for a departure from informality and for improvements in training and financing.

Keywords:Structural heteogeneity, microenterprises, poverty, public policy, Argentina.

The serious economic problems faced by Latin American economies over the past few decades contributed to the increasing development of smallscale entrepreneurs or microenterprises that carry out independent activities to produce and sell goods and services on the market.

Unlike other countries in Latin America, the rise of microenterprises in Argentina is a recent phenomenon with increasing relevance as an alternative solution to unemployment (Bekerman et al., 2005: 5-6). But within this context, it is not surprising that, unlike in developed countries, the large majority of microenterprises are subsistence enterprises or only generate low levels of income.

This reality manifests the coexistence of economic sectors within the productive system with strongly differentiated levels of productivity, which signifies the existence of a very heterogeneic social structure and leads us to a key concept of Latin American development theory: structural heteogeneity.

Given the new peculiarities of the Argentine productive structure, new classifications of the occupational strata appear that demonstrate clear differences in terms of their capacity to generate a surplus. Within these strata, we find the lowest or informal segment that is primarily composed of enterprises with low levels of productivity or that operate at levels of subsistence. This is where microenterprises enter in.

In fact, this group went from playing a marginal role to being considered by governments and international organisms to be a productive sector with strong potential for alleviating the problems of unemployment and poverty. This reflection seems to be linked to the strong rise in employment and income in many countries in the region, such as Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, thanks to the development of microenterprises. In short, this increase in productivity became an important instrument for the fight against poverty and marginalization and, in turn, for strengthening democratic process.

In Argentina, informal microenterprises that generate low levels of accumulation represent an important part of the economically active population. This segment of the economy faces a very different set of problems than the rest of the productive strata. Thus, unlike in the past, policies seeking to reduce marginalization should focus on understanding these problems.

Within this context, this work aims to diagnose the situation of a group of poor microenterprises in the city of Buenos Aires. It is necessary to study the productive strata to which these microenterprises belong in order to make policy recommendations that can lead to increases in productivity and can contribute to developing sustainable microenterprises.

We will begin with a brief review of the concept of structural heterogeneity and its application to the Argentine productive structure. Then, using the results of the survey, we will analyze the characteristics of microenterprises in the informal sector in the city of Buenos Aires. Next, we will share the vision of these microenterpreneurs regarding the policies that affect them and in section four, we will present an overview of existing public policy. Finally, we will share our conclusions and policy recommendations for this sector.

* Tenured Professor at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail:

** Research Assistant at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail:

1 These are microenterprises located in the Soldati and Mataderos zones, which are considered to be the poorest zones in the federal capital.