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Getting by

11 August 2017

Translated from “Instrucciones de un obrero para estirar el salario mínimo” (Luciano Franco, Cronica de Hoy, 11 Agusto 2017).|


Juan Carlos is one of the 7 million Mexicans who, according to Inegi statistics, earn between one and one and a half “salarios minimos” per day.  With superhuman effort, he stretches his 130 peso per day salary to at least guarantee his family is fed, and he can cover the costs of his own commute to and from work, and his children are able to get to school.  

If it were not for the extra income his wife, Patricia, pulls in through informal work on the weekends, and the financial contributions of his eldest son, even paying for utilities would be impossible. Let alone clothing and shoes.  Even with four hours of overtime every week, Juan Carlos’ just couldn’t make it on his wages.  

Juan Carlos is 43 years old. He and Patricia have been married for twenty years and have three children:  18 year old Juan Carlos, 16 year-old Roberto, and 13 year-old Ana Patrica.  He has a high school education and has worked in a metallurgical plant for the last five years.  

He lives in colonia Tenayuca Aqueduct, just over the line into the State of Mexico, where his two younger children attend local schools.  Juan Carlos, Junior, left high school to work in an area department store. His income, along with his mother’s is essential to the family’s survival.  

It helps that Juan Carlos is affiliated with the Mexican Institute of Social Security, which covers the insurance for himself, his wife, and his two minor children.  His income is too low for any withholding to be taken out of his salary.

His regular workday (not counting his routine three or four hours a week of overtime) is 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.  He is up and tout of the shower by  5:30 in the morning, in time for Patricia to take her own shower. The children bathe at night, since… as he puts it… we have to save time, and can’t all use the bathroom in the morning.  

While the children dress and get ready for school, Juan Carlos makes coffee and starts to make breakfast.  Patricia serves up the milk, bread, and scrambled eggs and makes bean sandwiches for the children to eat at school.  

Juan Carlos would prefer to escort  the youngerst, to school, but has to take a microbus to the Metro.  Patricia, takes her daughter “a few blocks” given that the young teen “does not like to come to school with me anymore, “she laughs.

Before heading out, Juan Carlos gives Patricia 100 pesos to cover the daily food budget.  He admits that by the end of the quincena [15 day standard pay period, generally the 15th and 30th day of the month], “I can not really leave that amount,” he acknowledges.

Juan Carlos earns 130 pesos a day – about seven dollars – a few pesos over one and a half times the minimum wage, or about 3,900 a months.  With overtime, he brings home just over 4000 pesos a month.  

75 percent of Juan Carlos’ salary goes to food.  He’s able to put aside a little for his evening treat, normally a sweetroll and coffee.  

Patricia contributes her earnings from part-time, informal work at a neighborhood tiaguis where on Saturdays and Sundays she sells, “whatever: clothes and used shoes in good condition, CDS, and sometimes, sometimes, perfume. We sell everything, so as to help and get ahead with our family.”

The family budget is a simple one:  The two younger children receive 50 pesos a week each.  Juan Carlos’ commuting costs are 42 pesos a day, or 210 a week.  The rest goes for food.  There is no money for extras, like recreation.  Whatever is on television has to suffice for that.  

Other essential expenditures, such as electricity, water, telephone and other services, come out of whatever Patricia earned from her weekend sales job, and whatever the elder son, Juan Carlos,  has been able to contribute after eight months working himself.   

“Juan Carlos junior already contributes a lot to family expenses by taking care of and buying his things and his food, since he almost always eats breakfast and eats out of the house and, even so, contributes financially to his brothers,” says the proud father of the family.

Juan Carlos is part of the more than 7.5 million Mexicans who, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), with the data from the fourth Government Report, earn between 1 and 1.5 minimum wages per day, and This year is 80.04 pesos.

The drama and economic vicissitudes Juan Carlos and his family face daily to get ahead are not as painful that suffered by the estimated three and half million Mexicans who receive no salary — that is to say, that they only have like tips tips or “commissions”, although they work eight or more hours to the day.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 August 2017 7:19 am

    The ghosts of Plutarco Calles and Benito Juarez still haunts Mexico.

  2. Allen Manana permalink
    12 August 2017 11:50 am

    Great report Richard, let’s hope that many people, especially retirees who live in Mexico, read this. Skilled and semi skilled workers make slightly more. The people in the auto parts sectore make much more by Mexican standards , but not compared to Canadian and US earnings. Trump says he will force the American auto companies in Mexico to aim towards equal pay. Perhaps not a pipe dream, and, it is the logical answer.
    And no, it will not put Mexicans out of work. The opposite.
    Canadian companies like MAGNA came to Mexico to supply parts to the big three, in Mexico. But, now supply parts to every auto maker.
    Hopefully this will “trickle down ” to the poor, average family. agg

  3. 28 August 2017 3:00 am

    Estoy muy satisfecho de encontrar este blog. Quería daros las gracias por redactar esta maravilla. Sin duda he saboreado cada pedacito de ella. Os te tengo en la lista para ver más cosas nuevas de este blog .

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