By Luc Cohen
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Nearly one-third of Argentina's population lives in poverty, the government said on Wednesday in the first official poverty data published in three years, underscoring the difficulty of reaching President Mauricio Macri's "zero poverty" goal.
In a survey of 27.2 million people in 31 urban areas, 8.8 million people, or 32.2 percent, were below the poverty line. Just over 6 percent qualified as "indigent" in the second quarter of 2016, the government statistics agency, Indec, said.
"Knowing that one in three Argentines find themselves below the poverty line is something that has to hurt us, something that has to make us angry, and that has to get us to commit to work together," Macri said.
Argentina's poverty rate is substantially higher than that of neighbouring Chile, which brought poverty down to 11.7 percent in 2015 from 14.4 percent in 2013. In the United States, 13.5 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2015, down from 14.8 percent in 2014.
INDEC defines the poverty line as whether a household has enough income to afford the food it needs, as well as non-food goods considered essential. Indec's 2010 census put Argentina's total population at 40.1 million.
Macri has enacted a number of market-friendly reforms since taking office in December, pleasing Wall Street but spurring inflation and swelling the ranks of the poor. That has contributed to falling approval ratings, which may imperil his centre-right party's performance in congressional elections next year.
He also revamped Indec after widespread allegations of manipulation under former leftist President Cristina Fernandez. The agency last published poverty data in October 2013 for the first half of that year, when it said just 4.7 percent of people lived in poverty.
At a news conference following the release of the data, Macri said his plan to attract investment, create jobs and slash inflation was the best way to reduce poverty.
Without reliable government data, Macri had cited poverty statistics from researchers at the Catholic University of Argentina.
Those figures showed 32.6 percent of Argentines lived in poverty as of April, up from 29 percent in December 2015, as Macri's decisions to lift currency controls, cut utility subsidies and reduce agricultural export taxes led to inflation expectations of 40 percent in 2016.
Macri called inflation a "tax always paid by those who have least."
The economy remains mired in recession, with GDP shrinking 2.1 percent in the second quarter of 2016.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)