A man uses his mobile phone in a street of Havana, Cuba. - 

A growing economy doesn't always help everyone.

"One thing is a society where the middle class is growing," says economist Julian Messina, with the World Bank. "And a different thing is a society where inequality is falling."

The middle class is on the agenda of the World Economic Forum on Latin America, now underway in Panama. But unlike in the U.S., the gap between rich and poor in Latin America has narrowed. And the middle class has grown.

That’s largely due to economic growth, with help from assistance programs that promote social advancement. 

"And these are notable because they give subsidies to poor families, but they're conditional upon sending children to school and vaccinating children," says Barbara Kotschwar with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.