For much of its history, Argentina was an agricultural nation. Farmers
grew wheat on the fertile Pampas and raised cattle and sheep on large ranches. Today, only
about 10% of the Argentinian labour force works in agriculture. Most Argentinians now work in
the service sector, the oil and gas industry, mining, shipbuilding, or the food, tobacco and
automotive industries. Most factories are in port cities. For this reason, the port cities have
attracted job seekers from rural areas and immigrants.
Did you know?
MERCOSUR, a South American free trade agreement signed by Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela
and Brazil, was formed in 1991 to encourage trade among the four countries and allow these countries
to compete internationally.
The richest Argentinians are traditional families that have developed agricultural business and the
owners and senior executives of large companies, who enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. The poorest are those who occupy the
villas miserias (slums) and can find only low-paid work such as shining shoes or working
as street vendors. Between these two extremes are Argentinians who are paid workers on
farms and in offices, schools, hospitals, industries and factories. Trade unions are very active and well organized,
play an important part in workers' lives.
In small towns, shops and offices shut down for lunch and people may take a siesta (rest) from
work during the hottest part of the day. Two to three hours later, businesses reopen and stay
open until closing time, which can be as late as 9 p.m.
Rapid growth and development since the late 19th century has brought more women into
the workforce. Women currently make up nearly 40% of the workforce and one third of
Argentinian households have women as the main breadwinners. Argentina was one of the first Latin
American countries to enact legislation regulating working conditions for women and children. The
Socialist Party passed the bill in 1907.
Economic problems in the 1980s and 1990s have made it necessary for many Argentinians to
work at two or even three jobs to pay for housing and feed their families. Government policies
in the 2000s have eased some of the effects of the economic crises, but the unemployment rate is still around 9.5% but declining.