Mexico has a minimum wage of around 69 pesos a day ($4.50 US), the lowest in Latin America and one that affects millions of people in the country who must juggle to cover basic needs like food and transport.
According to a report from the United Nations Development Programme, the 2014 minimum wage in Mexico of $146.15 US a month places it at the tail end of the region.
In fact, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean placed Mexico as the only country with a minimum wage below the poverty line. Furthermore 14% of employees receive a salary even lower than this minimum.
These figures gain even more weight when they are compared with the price of an average food basket which contains some 20 foodstuffs such as vegetables, meat, beans and eggs and with other non-food expenses such as clothes, transport and housing.
According to the Nation Council of Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), in March 2015 the basic food basket cost 1,284 pesos ($84 US approx.) a month per person in urban areas and 903 ($59 US) pesos in rural areas.
At the same time, non-food expenses increased to 2,628 pesos ($171 US) in cities and to 1,679 pesos ($110 US) in the countryside.
The executive secretary of CONEVAL Gonzalo Hernandez stated that ´45 per cent of the population is poor, they have at least one social deficiency like falling behind in education or a lack of access to health services as well as an income under the poverty line. And close to 9 per cent live in extreme poverty.´
The head of the Economics department of the Popular Autónoma University of the state of Puebla, Marcos Gutiérrez, stated that from more than 52 million working people in Mexico, 37.7 per cent earned the minimum wage in 2014 (19.5 million), 23.2 per cent earned between one and two minimum wages and 35.6 per cent earned more than two.
Furthermore, Hernandez explained that 1.5 per cent of formal economy workers (180 thousand people) and 5.5 per cent of informal economy workers (4121 thousand people) earn less than the minimum wage, highlighting that although ¨in formal economy jobs it is illegal, it does occur ¨.
Maria del Rocio runs an informal juice and smoothie business in Mexico City and earns around 300 pesos ($19.60 US) a day, from Monday to Friday.
In her street stand she employs her two sons, whom she pays 250 pesos ($16.30 US) for working a 9 hour day.
Maria del Rocio, who has no health insurance summed things up like this, ¨now we make it to the end of the month because they´re grown up. As far as basics go, we´re not short but we haven´t got anything left over either¨
Within the formal economy sector, a supermarket worker who preferred to remain anonymous, indicated that his salary was around 3,500 pesos ($228 US) a month and with that he has to support his wife and two daughters
Guadalupe, who has just turned 20 and has two children aged three and five, sells Mexican sweets at the entrance of a metro station in Mexico City. She earns between 100 and 150 pesos ($6.50 to 9.70 US) per day.
She is from Oaxaca, in the south of the country, and she spends some four months each year in the capital with her husband, who works as a dish washer for 600 pesos a week ($47 US). Together they manage to earn around 5,200 pesos a month ($339 US).
The family earns just half of the 10,510 pesos needed to reach the designated urban comfort level. She emphasised that it´s enough to buy eggs, beans or cheese but never meat.
Furthermore, in various regions of the country, day labourers are crying out for a salary increase, which is currently between 60 and 120 pesos a day.
According to experts, in this context a rise in the base salary should be an imperative but on the contrary the difference between the minimum salary and the basic food basket has grown year by year.
Guitierrez points out that ¨the real minimum wage has fallen 30 per cent since 1990, which means that it has lost buying power¨ while labor productivity has risen on average 4.5 per cent.
Last August, the governor of the Bank of Mexico Agustin Carstens warned that an increase in the minimum wage could generate inflationary pressure if it is not accompanied by greater productivity.
However, there are business organisations such as the Private Sector Economic Study Centre that are betting on an increase in the minimum wage, testament to the current debate in the nation.
* Article translated from the Spanish. Original by Marti Quintana can be found here.