Tuesday, July 30, 2013

45% of ‘Middle Class Mexico’ Lives in Poverty

Although it is becoming increasingly popular to describe Mexico as a middle-class country, official statistics suggest this is inaccurate.

Recently, reports on a growing middle class in Mexico have become more and more common in the U.S. Analysts have proclaimed that Mexico’s “tenacious middle class is fast becoming the majority,” the country is approaching a “middle class society,” and even that its citizens are “becoming too bourgeois to cross illegally into the United States.”

Although definitions of “middle class” are frequently tied to cultural identification, in economic terms the evidence that for this phenomenon is mixed at best, as illustrated by two recent reports.

In June, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) released an analysis which found that the middle class accounted for roughly 39 percent of the country’s 112 million people, only a four percent increase since 2000. While the report did not establish clear criteria for its definition of middle class, it did say that in general middle class households have a credit card, at least one member who is formally employed, and are headed by a high school graduate. By contrast, some 60 percent of population belonged to the lower classes in 2010, according to INEGI.

Yesterday, Mexico’s National Council of Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) published a report which put economic inequality in the country into further perspective. El Universal reports that CONEVAL found that from 2010 to 2012 the number of people living in poverty rose from 52.8 to 53.3 million. The organization defines poverty as lacking welfare or employment, and making less $120 a month in rural areas or $186 in urban areas.

Perhaps even more jarring to the middle class narrative is the variation of poverty across Mexico’s 32 states. Animal Politico has a graphic showing that 11 of these have populations in which the majority fall below the poverty line. In three states (Chiapas, Guerrero and Puebla) more than two-thirds of residents meet this definition.

While -- as Reuters and La Jornada report -- in percentage terms the number of Mexicans living in poverty during this period actually reduced slightly (from 46.1 to 45.5 percent) and the number living in extreme poverty fell from 13 to 11.5 million, it’s clear from these figures that the country has a ways to go before it even approaches the middle class ideal.  

News Briefs
  • One day before Uruguay’s lower house is set to vote on a bill which would make it the first country to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana, a new poll by Cifra has found that 63 percent of Uruguayans oppose the measure, 11 percent have no opinion, and just 26 percent approve of it. The figure has remained essentially unchanged since President Jose Mujica first proposed legalizing marijuana last year, which Cifra director Luis Eduardo Gonzalez described to El Pais as an unusually “systematic and persistent” opinion on the matter. Meanwhile, Montevideo Portal reports the fate of the bill currently rests on one vote in the ruling Frente Amplio coalition, that of Congressman Dario Perez. While other politicians in the Frente believe he will side in favor of the bill, he has refused to declare his intention publicly ahead of tomorrow’s vote.
  • The Uruguay poll comes on the heels of a similar survey published in Mexico, where lawmakers are considering a proposal to legalize the drug in Mexico City. According to a poll published last week by the De la Riva Group, of 800 Mexicans surveyed, just 32 percent believe marijuana should be legalized. In Animal Politico, widely-cited Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope argues that while he believes that the net effect of ending marijuana prohibition would be positive, its impact will be moderate. “It won’t break the cartels or end the killing; It won’t empty the prisons and it won’t fill public coffers,” he writes, and argues that drug reform advocates should refrain from overselling the benefits of legalization.
  • In an ambush in western Michoacan, gunmen killed Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar and a bodyguard of his on Sunday, Milenio reports. According to the BBC, Salazar was one of the country’s highest ranking navy officials in the state. Officials say they believe the Knights Templar is behind the attack, and have three suspects in custody. The New York Times reports that the incident illustrates the complexity of the drug-related conflict in Michoacan state. Jorge Chabat, a drug and security expert at the Mexico City-based research center CIDE, told the NYT that he believes the government did not send enough troops to reinforce the area in May.
  • Writing for the New Yorker’s News Desk blog, Ryan Lizza looks at what recent remarks by NSA Director General Keith Alexander show about the agency’s activities in Brazil. Alexander recently told reporters that the NSA was not conducting surveillance on the communications of everyone in the country, only focusing on “metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit.” While at face value this does not appear to reveal much, Lizza points out that the remark, paired with a map of submarine cables, suggests that the NSA was monitoring Brazilian telecommunications companies because Brazil is one of the most important communication hubs linking South America to Africa and Europe.
  • O Globo reports that the trial of 26 Brazilian police officers accused of killing 73 inmates during a 1992 prison riot in Sao Paulo’s Carandiru prison begins today. According to the BBC, a verdict in the case is expected “by Friday or Saturday.”
  • In spite of Nicaragua’s plans to construct a rival to the Panama canal with the help of Chinese firms, Panamanian officials are unconcerned. In a recent interview, Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nuñez Fabrega told reporters that his country had no contingency plans to cope with the impact of a rival canal, as “it is easier to get to the moon than build a canal through Nicaragua.”
  • In response to Venezuela’s chief prosecutor requesting that his bank accounts be frozen in accordance with an investigation into allegations that he failed to pay back a multimillion dollar loan, El Nacional editor and owner Miguel Henrique Otero has accused the government of silencing his paper, the Associated Press reports.
  • The New York Times profiles cooperation between specialists at the U.S. government’s National Hurricane Center and Cuba’s National Prognostic Center, which share meteorological data during storm season in the Caribbean. According to the NYT, many experts in both countries wish that this cooperation could extend into disaster management, as the U.S. may be able to learn from Cuba’s highly successful storm preparation system.

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