Our final speaker of the day yesterday, Dr Sandra Solis, discussed the anti-poverty programs in Mexico. She began with a historical overview of these programs, which change each six years (with the president). From the outside, the programs follow a reasonable logic: generally speaking, people living in poverty and deep poverty are given cash transfers for food. In more recent years, the cash transfers are linked to medical care (with different levels of care required for children, pregnant women, and other groups), attendance at nutritional lectures, and school attendance. Mothers receive a higher cash transfer when their daughters attend school. Specific rules dictate how many medical appointments can be missed or how much school can be missed before the cash transfers are revoked.
However, according to Dr Solis, these programs have not been successful. The most recent program was evaluated by an independent group, and the results were not promising: the number of people in poverty had increased between 2008 and 2010. Since her lecture was translated into English by Juan (our tour’s translator), I missed some of the finer points of her lecture. Without additional research, I have no way of knowing whether the percent of the population living in poverty had also risen. Also, the global recession occurred during that time period, which caused a large rise in US unemployment. Many migrant workers returned to Mexico from the US during this period. Given the tight linkages between the US and Mexico, it is likely that the Mexicans were also worse off during this time period. Thus it is unclear whether the anti-poverty programs had at least partially offset the effect of the recession. That type of analysis is typically done by economists, and not by public health researchers, and so when I get a chance, I will take a look in the economics literature to see what I can find.
That said, after hearing Dr. Solis speak, I do not feel hopeful. In any country, the problems of poverty and opportunity are linked. The job opportunities are so limited here, that even with slowly increasing educational levels, people are unable to obtain jobs. And with rapid population growth, the Mexican economy faces even more pressures in terms of providing good jobs for workers. However, the FT reports a very low unemployment rate in Mexico (4.7 percent in 2012), but this statistic can be misleading. The unemployment rate only reflects the percent of the labor force, not working age people, that are not working. About 11 million people (in 2006; about 28 percent of those working) were employed in the “informal labor market,” and they are excluded from the unemployment statistic calculation. The informal status of their jobs means they pay no taxes and receive no health care benefits. Further, they won’t be eligible for social security when they are old. (cite: Tapia, Daniel, and Carlos Marquez Padilla. “The informal economy in Mexico: an alternative labor market.” Voices of Mexico (2006).)
Through conversations with people here, I learned that only 25 percent of the population pays taxes (due to their employment status as either unemployed, indigenous, or working in the informal sector). It seems the amount of tax revenue collected is probably not sufficient to support the social needs of the people in this country, where the social needs are health care, adequate food and nutrition, and support of the aging population (which is increasing). As I said in an earlier post, the poverty rate in Mexico hovers at around 50 percent of the population.
On the positive side of the Mexican anti-poverty is the growth in educating girls. One well-known tremendous benefit is that women with more education have fewer babies, and this effect has been observed around the globe. The Economist reports that the births in Mexico have declined from 7 babies per woman (in the 1960s) to around 2 in (approximately) 2010.
We haven’t really scratched the surface of the problems related to poverty in Mexico, but a new day beckons. Off to the meatpacking plant….so there is more to come later!