In a quaint coffee shop in the heart of La Condesa (one of Mexico City’s trendiest neighborhoods), Ana and Ricardo sit down and take a break from their jobs. One of them orders a shot of espresso, the other a soft drink and a muffin. Their bill exceeds 120 pesos ($9.10), excluding tip. After a while, they get up, pay and happily go on their way.
One block from the café another Mexican, Silvia, mops the floor of a local supermarket and earns minimum wage. A single mother of two she has to make ends meet with 345 pesos ($26.20) a week working six days.
Her story is not an exception. It is a reality shared by 12 percent of this country’s economically active population. Another nine percent of our workers earn the sum of two minimum wages, 115 pesos ($8.74) daily. This creates problems and challenges far greater than what these figures reflect.
In the U.S., the minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour. At 13 pesos to the dollar and an 8-hour workday, this means that a minimum wage employee in the US earns 13 times as much as one in Mexico. Does this tell you a little bit about the risks migrants are willing to face in order to illegally cross the border?
Politicians in Mexico love to relate purchasing power to the price of the tortilla. At current rates, one minimum wage is the equivalent of 6 kilos of tortilla per day. This sounds like a lot (this is why they love to use this figure). I guess politicians expect us to live off of tortillas (and people wonder why our country has one of the worst obesity problems in the world). Unfortunately, though tortillas are cheap, nothing else on the shelf is. If Silvia pays a really low rent, she will blow the rest of her income when she goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a box of cereal, a carton of milk, a couple of cans of food and a 2 liter bottle of her soft drink of choice. Not nearly enough to feed a family, let alone provide a balanced diet… Wait, don’t forget your tortillas!