This is the second part of an essay on Mexico’s current situation. Read the first piece here.
6. INCOME GAP
Sixty (60!) million people, half of Mexico’s population, live in poverty, and 20 million of them do it at the very bottom: in extreme poverty, which is on less than two dollars a day, according to the Mexican Statistics and Geographic Institute (INEGI).
The average income of the richest 10% of households is now 26 times higher than the average income of the poorest 10%. These numbers, put into perspective, mean that Mexico has the largest gap between the rich and poor of all but six nations in the world, excluding African countries, according to United Nations and World Bank’s numbers.
This gap is also reflected in the average monthly salaries, where scarcity is the rule. The average hourly wage in Mexico is 31.3 pesos ($2.43) according to INEGI, which is incredibly attractive for many foreign companies, which took grasp on these scarce salaries (lower now than China) and came back from Asia, increasing investment in the country.
In this context, it could seem that Mexico’s commercial partnerships may help, but only a few large Mexican companies are benefiting handsomely with these laughable salaries, and all the investment they boast does not spread evenly. Sure, many factories set foot on Mexican soil, bringing back the jobs displaced to Asia during the past decades, but those are low-profile jobs, as there is no need for qualified or skilled workforce for the kind of production they are setting in Mexico. In the end, not even the NAFTA met its promises to close Mexico’s wage gap with the US, boost job growth, fight poverty or create qualified jobs.
As a closing for this point, just mention that while the poverty rate in Latin America fell from a 48.4% in 1990 to a 27.9% in 2013, in Mexico rose to a 51% during the same year.
7. BRAIN DRAIN
If you happen to be a young, talented and recently graduated professional in Mexico, earning a gross salary of 3.000 MXN per month (roughly 150 EUR), or even as high as 15.000 MXN tops (if you’re senior) will not do, specially if you have some pride on your professional expertise.
This is a phenomenon that it is happening in Europe and China as well: graduates and professionals choose to develop their careers either where the paycheck is higher or the standards of living are better. Mexico loses about the 14.3% of their professionals to its neighbor above. But what is worse is that most of them end up in jobs that have nothing to do with their original education, therefore, it is not only a brain drain, but also brain waste. Billions of pesos poured into education every year, washed away. And despite the circumstances they might find out here, it is not clear if any of them will ever come back.
In addition to coping with the permanent struggle to achieve a decent living, there’s the education of their offspring. Because of this, many families simply cannot afford to send their kids to school, which contributes to the poverty circle that forces children to work instead of going to school, and when they fail to receive the adequate education, they will be less likely to get a job, and more likely to end up working in low-key jobs, thus earning low wages, and repeating the cycle with their kids. And this is exactly what is happening in Mexico.
In addition, phantom teachers (as ‘The Economist’ dubbed them), never-ending strikes, an excessively powerful teachers union, weak teaching, and outdated curricula are preying on Mexico’s educative system and its students, ought to be future citizens.
The Government has to face strikes and riots every time they try to modernize the educative system, as the Teacher’s Union can paralyze an entire city or a State through ruthless strikes and their vast number of affiliates, but these strikes are meant for nothing else than keeping the status quo of what is a teacher’s career: stable, no responsibilities, inheritance of the job, no overseeing…
There is still no independent inspector body from the Federal Government on education, and teachers’ career structure means that the weakest, most remote schools often get the least-experienced teachers, as the system is based on scores and performance… and little corruption too.
Given the example set by teachers and administration themselves, it is no wonder why Mexican students score among the worst in education tests among the OECD.
9. COLONIAL HERITAGE
There are many studies on the impact of Colonization on native Amerindians and what it meant for the generations to come. This ‘heritage’ is not referred here to the cuisine, the language or architecture but the colonial mentality. When the first Castilians came from the shores of the New Spain, they installed a social system that divided the conquered lands among themselves and ruled as feudal lords, treating the native Amerindians as something between serfs and slaves.
This mentality has lasted until today in many shapes, from European beauty standards, unquestionable respect for the ruling authority to the social and economic gap still existing. But to know more about it, here’s article that goes into detail about this subject and its impact in the modern Mexico.
Impunity is and has been the cornerstone of Mexico’s current situation. Here you can get away from almost anything, either small things like a traffic ticket, throwing garbage on the street, or even illegal housing, to major crimes like sex trafficking, torture, kidnapping, embezzlement, and a long list of things you will never get punished for with the proper connections or amount of money.
The relevance of impunity resides in that it doesn’t matter who did, or what has been done: people will certainly get away from it, and what is worse, it spawns an entire culture and social attitude towards it that makes impossible a change for the best: if I can avoid the consequences of my felonies, why even bother trying to abide the law or any kind social rule of living in community? Why even respect those who do? How fool of them…
Impunity is especially enjoyed by the Administration, from cops to military and government officials, and it has not only ‘minor‘ cases, but also severe human rights violations, with nobody held responsible, nor serious independent investigation ever made.
But maybe it is just perception. When I read there is an average of 3 deaths per day in Culiacán, I’m told ‘it could be worse‘; but I like to think ‘it could be better‘. Maybe it is because people learn to live with it, or maybe it is because they gave up.
It could be worse seems to be Mexico’s safeword for any problem.