Sep 062011

According to a recent government study, almost half of Mexico’s population now lives in poverty. The report came from the National Political and Social Development Commission (Spanish language acronym: Coneval). Poverty rates had been falling for several years, so this is clear evidence that Mexico’s economy has been struggling in the wake of the economic recession in North America.

How does Coneval define poverty?

Coneval uses a simple multidimensional poverty index, which considers the following criteria:

  • household income
  • access to education
  • access to food
  • access to health care
  • access to social services
  • housing quality
  • access to basic household services (electricity, water, drainage)

According to Coneval, people living on less than 2,114 pesos (about $180) a month in urban areas (or 1329 pesos in rural areas) and who lack at least one of the basic social rights in the list are living in poverty.

Extreme poverty (see map)  is applied to people living on less than 978 pesos ($85) a month in urban areas (684 pesos in rural areas) and lacking at least one social right.

Map of extreme poverty in Mexico 2010By these definitions, 46.2% of Mexico’s population (or about 52 million people) are currently living in poverty. This has risen from 44.5% in 2008. However, the percentage living in extreme poverty has dropped slightly since 2008 from 10.6% to 10.4%.

The distribution of poverty shown on the map above is not a surprise; we have seen many times in previous posts that the southern half of Mexico (excluding the Yucatán Peninsula) is much less wealthy in economic terms and social indicators than the north, even if it has a wealth of indigenous groups and cultural traditions.

The map below is perhaps more interesting since it highlights the areas where the incidence of poverty has changed significantly between 2008 and 2010. The green areas have experienced a significant decrease in poverty and the red areas a significant increase in poverty. It is clear that the effects of the economic recession are being felt much harder in northern Mexico, where export-led manufacturing is prominent, than in the south.

map of changes in poverty in Mexico, 2008-2010Poverty in Mexico is on the rise, and it is on the rise faster in northern Mexico than the already poverty-stricken south. Only time will tell whether this increase in poverty is a temporary and short-lived trend or whether it heralds the start of tough times for many people in Mexico, especially those living in the rural areas, where the incidence of poverty and extreme poverty are far higher than in urban areas.

Given that the income levels used to define poverty in urban areas are more generous than those used for rural areas, the true level of poverty in the Mexican countryside is almost certainly much higher than this study suggests, something for politicians to bear in mind as they gear up for national elections next year.

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