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Poverty increases in Mexico amid COVID-19 pandemic

August 5, 2021 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) — An additional 3.8 million Mexicans had fallen into poverty in 2020 compared to 2018, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mexico’s poverty-measurement agency said Thursday.

The poor made up 43.9% of the population, or 55.7 of Mexico’s 126 million people, compared to 41.9% two years earlier. About 2.1 of the 3.8 million newly poor fell into extreme poverty, defined as being unable to meet their basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. There are 10.8 million Mexicans — about 8.5% of the population — in extreme poverty.

“The COVID-19 health emergency has deepened the challenges for social development policy on all levels, mainly in income, health, education and food,” the agency said, adding that more government aid is needed for the poorest “given the drop in income due to the health emergency.”

Poverty grew the most in Mexico’s most tourism-dependent states. Poverty in in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo was up 17.3% in 2020, and in Baja California Sur, home to the twin resorts of Los Cabos, it grew by 9%.

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The poverty measurement was based on a survey of Mexican households from August to November 2020, and now includes government and other cash transfers, as well as non-cash income. Based on cash income alone without those other sources, 52.8% of Mexicans were poor in 2020, compared to 49.9% in 2018.

Average income from all sources fell 7% in 2020 compared to 2018. Only cash transfers rose, in large part due to an increase in money sent home by migrants working abroad.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to increase aid for the elderly, and poverty among people 65 and over fell to 37.9% from 43.2% in 2018. However, due to increases in the over-65 population, the absolute number of elderly poor remained the same, at about 4.5 million.

López Obrador’s administration promised Thursday to continue increasing Mexico’s minimum wage to around $9.50 per day, or about $1.20 per hour, by 2024 when the president’s term ends. The president has already raised minimum wages from roughly $4.50 to $7 in the first three years of his administration.

The Labor Department said that $9.50 per day would be enough to buy the minimum basic necessities for 1.7 people. Mexico’s Constitution requires the minimum wage should be enough to allow a worker to support his family — obviously, more than 1.7 people — but that mandate has not been observed in practice for decades.

Equally worrisome was the drop in access to health care, with the number of people reporting deficient health care access rising from 16.2% of the population in 2018 to 28.2% in 2020. That meant that 35.7 million people in Mexico said they lacked adequate treatment.

Poor health care, like poverty and extreme poverty, were heavily concentrated in southern states like Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. Some wealthier northern states along the border reported much lower poverty levels.

For example, three-quarters of people in Chiapas were in poverty in 2020, compared to 22.5% in Baja California.