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Mexico’s Minimum Wage is Criminally Low. Is It Unconstitutional?

Cortesía de http://juantadeo.wordpress.com/

A few of the items in an average family's food basket.  Photo courtesy of Juan Tadeo.

In Mexico, the working minimum wage varies geographically. In regions designated “A” (like Mexico City and various towns in the border states of Baja California, Nuevo León, and Sonora), people earn 67.29 pesos (about $5 USD) for an 8-hour workday.

How many workers in Mexico must subsist on this kind of pay? Journalist Juan Pablo Becerra Acosta has the answer:

No pocos ciudadanos. De acuerdo a los datos más recientes del INEGI, 6.7 millones de mexicanos perciben un salario mínimo. Eso representa 15.1 por ciento de la población ocupada en el país.

It's more than a few. According to the most recent data compiled by INEGI [the National Institute of Statistics and Geography], 6.7 million Mexicans earn minimum wage. This represents 15.1% of those employed in the country.

This statistic, incidentally, does not include people whose pay is off the books.

According to Article 123 of Mexico's Constitution, the country's minimum wage should be sufficient to provide the head of a household with the means to satisfy the family's material, social, and cultural needs and to ensure that any children receive an education.

In reality, however, what minimum wage salary afford Mexico's workers on a daily basis?

It turns out that 67.29 pesos is not enough to buy a single kilogram of average quality beef, the price of which is about 80 pesos (or $6 USD). On the other hand, the wage is enough to buy a kilo of tortillas, a kilo of eggs, and a liter of pasteurized milk—all of which are considered basic food items in the Mexican diet. With a somewhat happy belly, however, there is little money left over for other basic necessities, like transportation.

A one-way ticket on the Metro, one of the principal modes of transportation in the Mexican capital, runs 5 pesos. That means people in Mexico City spend at least 10 pesos a day—almost 15 percent of the minimum wage income—getting to and from work. In other words, after a full day of working for minimum wage, the average Mexican would not be able to buy a hamburger, french fries, and a beverage combo, the cost of which is closer to 70 pesos ($5.26 USD).

Establecimientos de comida rápida en México. Foto de http://juantadeo.wordpress.com/

Fast food court in Mexico. Photo by Juan Tadeo, used with permission.

It is interesting to compare minimum wage with the earnings of public servants. During a month, an employee on minimum wage receives $2,018.70 pesos ($151.00 USD approximately) while the President Enrique Peña Nieto makes $142,117.76 pesos a month ($10,685.00 USD) according to official records. Talking about public servants of lower rank, a doctor working in the National Cancer Institute as head of a department, earns $28,027.09 pesos a month, equivalent to $ 2,107.00 USD.

One Twitter user made the following comparison:

Caption reads: “$65 pesos for an 8-hour day would be $6 dollars in the U.S. vs $10 dollars for an hour of work would be 125 pesos in Mexico. But when Mexicans complain, they are told to stop being troublemakers and get back to work.”

Mexican Senator Alejandra Barrales of the leftist Party of the Democratic revolution recently shared the following data:

From 2000 to 2011 [during the PAN administrations], Mexico had one of the lowest wage growths of any Latin American country.

Barrales’ remarks responded to claims by the opposing National Action Party (PAN), which has positioned itself as a defender of Mexico's downtrodden workers. Commenting on the PAN's proposition to review wage rates, Twitter user Fher Garcia writes:

If members of the PAN really want to do something about the minimum wage, they should probably start by trying to live off it themselves.

If we consider what a person's salary ought to cover, based on the letter of the law, and contrast that with what a day's minimum-wage earnings actually buy, it raises serious concerns about how Mexico's current minimum wage fuels the profound class divisions that plague Mexican society today, perhaps violating the country's Constitution.

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