Northern and (with the possible exception of a few distant islands) Western Hemispheres are home to North America.
More than 9.54 million square miles (24.71 million square kilometers), North America is the third-largest continent on Earth, accounting for 16.5 percent of its total land area and 4.8 percent of its total surface area.
Over 596 million people inhabit North America’s 23 sovereign nations and 20 non-sovereign territories.
As the greatest economy in the world, the United States’ 2020 GDP of over $21 trillion accounted for almost one-quarter of the global economy. North America is home to the United States. However, North America is home to some of the world’s poorest nations, despite the continent’s wealth.
There are many different ways to measure the level of living in a country, but GNI per capita is one of the most often used measures. In 2020, the United States had a GDP per capita of $64,140. Thirteen other nations in North America have GNIs per capita below $10,000.
According to the Atlas method, in current US dollars, the 13 poorest countries in North America by GNI per capita (World Bank 2020 statistics)
- Haiti — $1,320
- Nicaragua — $1,850
- Honduras — $2,180
- El Salvador — $3,630
- Belize — $4,110
- Guatemala — $4,490
- Jamaica — $4,670
- Dominican Republic — $7,260
- Dominica — $7,270
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — $7,310
- Mexico — $8,480
- Saint Lucia — $8,560
- Grenada — $9,410
These nations are particularly prone to natural catastrophes like hurricanes, volcanoes, and severe weather—which climate change models suggest will grow in frequency as global temperature rises.
Events like these can devastate infrastructure and public works, disrupt key industries like tourism and agriculture (which are important pillars of the economies of the many Caribbean and Central American countries), and strain public assistance services to the breaking point in significant economic turmoil.
The COVID-19 epidemic wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and Central American economies, heavily reliant on tourism and agriculture for their livelihoods.
Pandemic-related lockdowns banned tourism in several nations for months and prohibited agricultural workers from harvesting and selling their products.
Consequently, many nations saw a rise in unemployment and poverty among populations who were already struggling to make ends meet.
Table of Contents
Profiles of the poorest countries in North America:
There are now more Haitians than there are resources to support them, and the country’s population growth surpasses its capacity to keep up. Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake in January 2010, the country’s worst natural catastrophe ever, and its recovery is still underway.
Haiti has a lengthy history of slavery, revolt, deforestation, corruption, debt, and bloodshed, all of which have contributed to the country’s political instability, poverty, and infrastructural deprivation.
In the 2020 Human Development Index (HDI), the nation came in at 170th place out of 189, and political instability and violence are now impeding its development.
Despite Nicaragua’s status as the second-poorest nation in North America, most of its population lives in rural areas. People living in poverty are affected by natural calamities, political instability, and a lack of educational opportunities.
When natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and storms decimate livestock, crops, schools, and houses, families are left with nothing.
Although the economy is still underdeveloped, mining, manufacturing, and tourism are all seeing development. As a result, Nicaragua can rise out of its obscurity and offer a higher standard of living for its people.
An estimated 66 percent of Honduras’ 10 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line. A continued lack of education and health care systems and income disparity are additional key obstacles.
According to the World Bank, Honduran children will only be 48% as productive as they might have been if they had a comprehensive education and good health. Since Honduras’ GDP tripled between 2000 and 2019, circumstances in the country may improve.
However, given the country’s rapid economic expansion, this is not a certainty.
4. El Salvador
There is a tiny elite in El Salvador, the smallest nation in Central America, who have become rich through the country’s coffee and sugar industry. Although a significant portion of the population lives in poverty, the proportion declined from 39 percent in 2007 to 22.3% in 2019.
Factors that contribute to El Salvador’s poverty include high homicide rates, a weak education system, and a high vulnerability to natural disasters (volcano quakes and typhoon rains).
However, the homicide rate fell from 103 to 20 in 2020, and additional government programs could significantly improve El Salvador’s situation.
Although this tiny Central American nation’s GDP has quadrupled since 2000, it was mostly due to a fast expanding tourist sector, which led to a devastating economic downturn when the COVID-19 epidemic of 2020 shut down tourism for several months.
Tourism is expected to rebound significantly in the next years, but huge wealth disparities and a substantial foreign debt burden loom.
More than half of the nation’s 18 million residents live below the poverty line, and the country has the world’s fourth-highest chronic malnutrition rate.
People in Guatemala are so impoverished that the government cannot raise enough cash via taxes to develop infrastructure, public health and educational facilities, and other basic services (such as clean water).
Economic development is stifled due to this, which in turn harms poverty reduction and tax collections. This epidemic of COVID-19 should be short-lived, and ongoing investment in its inhabitants might boost the country’s long-term prospects.
Despite the World Bank classifying it as an upper-middle-income nation, Jamaica, the biggest and most populous English-speaking country in the Caribbean, is also one of the poorest countries in North America.
Low growth, high public debt levels, and the susceptibility of Jamaica’s economy to natural catastrophes (hurricanes and floods) have contributed to the country’s economic instability, slowness, and weakening.
In addition to gang violence, high inflation rates, and high unemployment, Jamaica is also beset by these issues. The nation spends approximately half of its GDP on imported items for essentials like fuel and food, increasing its deficit.
While public debt and unemployment have decreased significantly since 2013, an ambitious budget reform program was initiated in 2013.
8. Dominican Republic
Even though the Dominican Republic and Haiti share an island, the Dominican Republic’s financial situation is far better than Haiti’s, even though the Dominican Republic is North America’s 8th poorest nation.
There has been a dramatic increase in the Dominican Republic’s GDP during 2000, from 24 billion USD to over 89 billion USD.
Due to prudent fiscal policies and robust development in industries such as tourism, mining, and telecommunications, the Dominican Republic was on course to become a [high-income nation] by 2030. Economic growth had been accelerating, but the epidemic halted it, causing its economy to shrink sharply.
The Dominican Republic’s public services must be expanded, the effects of climate change reduced, and the country’s people be adequately accommodated for the DR to go ahead.
Dominica, a tiny island, is still reeling after Hurricane Maria’s devastation in 2017, which destroyed virtually all of the nation’s infrastructure.
Rebuilding the electricity infrastructure, public water services, and other necessities puts a burden on the country’s public resources budget, leaving little money for medical and educational advancements. There is just one significant crop in Dominica, and that is bananas.
This makes the island susceptible to growing conditions and the banana trade changes.
10. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Poverty and underemployment are rampant in this Caribbean island nation, plagued by a lack of trade opportunities. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, like Dominica, are mostly dependent on the production and export of bananas for their economic well-being.
As a result, the country’s economy and cash flow would considerably benefit from diversification and development of the economy.
La Soufrière volcano’s eruption in April 2021 damaged the island’s infrastructure and banana fields, incurring damage equivalent to 23% of the country’s GDP in that year. More than 20,000 individuals were displaced by the bomb, some of whom stayed in shelters for months.
With more than 131 million people, Mexico is North America’s third-largest nation. Even though Mexico has been a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since 1994, the Mexican economy has remained stagnant.
Although the country’s current economic standing could be improved, World Bank officials believe that supporting new businesses, working to include and assist women and migrants — two groups that are frequently left out of the workforce — and implementing measures to combat climate change and disasters are all viable options.
12. Saint Lucia
Because of the country’s shaky foundations, many residents in Saint Lucia lack access to quality drinking water, power, and transportation infrastructure.
Put another way, this restricts people’s access to education, health care, and other resources, limiting the sectors in which they may find work.
Tourism, one of the nation’s most important industries, was severely harmed by the COVID-19 epidemic, and it is not expected that the country will completely recover from this blow until 2024-25.
St. Lucia isn’t well-equipped to deal with natural calamities, which disproportionately affect the country’s poor. Even the Saint Lucian government struggles financially.
Thus it is frequently unable to offer enough resources for individuals struggling to make ends meet. St. Lucia’s poverty may be alleviated by economic growth, particularly in the agricultural and light industrial sectors.
The three-island Caribbean republic of Grenada is another country whose GDP decreased sharply during the pandemic-related lockdowns of 2020. In Grenada’s second-largest economy, agriculture, there is a considerable risk of natural catastrophes, pests, and other consequences of climate change.
The good news is that the country has made significant progress in paying down its national debt in the last several years. Grenada was decimated by the COVID-19 epidemic, with some estimates placing the country’s unemployment rate at 48 percent at its peak.
Also See: Poorest Countries in Europe 2022
10 of North America’s poorest nations are listed here:
- Cuba (-)
- Haiti ($1,320)
- Nicaragua ($1,850)
- Honduras ($2,180)
- El Salvador ($3,630)
- Belize ($4,110)
- Guatemala ($4,490)
- Jamaica ($4,670)
- Dominican Republic ($7,260)
- Dominica ($7,270)
|Country||GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)||GNI per capita (PPP, current INT$)||GDP (current US$ millions)|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||807.5000||7310||12740|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1370.3000||13750||17910|
|Trinidad and Tobago||21588||15420||24790|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||980.7000||19080||26190|