The Facts


new internationalist
issue 251 - January 1994

Mexico - The Facts

Some things in Mexico seem to be going right. Inflation is down, the currency is stable and the Stock Exchange is booming. But people are still earning less than they were in 1980. Environmental problems have multiplied. Inequality and hardship have spiralled.

Basic Indicators1,2
[image, unknown] Mexico is placed 46th out of 160 countries on the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This index ranks countries according to life expectancy, education and income. Mexico falls just within the ‘high human development’ band, which is headed by Canada.

[image, unknown] Life expectancy at birth 1990: 69.7 years (US 75.9)
[image, unknown] Adult literacy rate 1990: 87(%) (US 99)
[image, unknown] Mean years of schooling 1990: 4.7 (US 12.3)
[image, unknown] Under 5 mortality rate 1991: 37 (US 11)
[image, unknown] Index of food production 1991: 97 (1979-81 = 100)
[image, unknown] Daily per capita calorie supply as % of requirements 1988-90:131 (US 138)
[image, unknown] Per cent of population with access to:
safe water (1988-90): 71
adequate sanitation (1988-90): 77
health services (1985-88): 78

Rich and poor1
Income distribution within Mexico is starkly unequal, leaving almost one-third of the population below the poverty line even by official calculations. Just 35 of Mexico’s richest families take more than the poorest 15 million Mexicans.

Distribution of household income, 1989
(per cent of total national income earned by each tenth of the population, richest at the top.)
Distribution of household income, 1989

[image, unknown] Shaping up1
Mexico is applying to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the ‘Club‘ for the 24 richest countries in the world. Comparison with them shows that there are still big, sometimes unexpected, differences. Government expenditure as a proportion of national income (GDP) is less than half the OECD average. Income distribution is considerably worse. An estimated 25 per cent of the Mexican work force is unemployed or working in the ‘informal’ sector.

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Cheap labour3
During the economic crisis of the early 1980s real wages in Mexico fell sharply and a corresponding increase in employment in the maquiladora export-only plants took place.This fuelled the belief that cheap labour in Mexico was undercutting labour in Canada and the USA.

Hourly cost of labour in Mexico and growth of maquiladora employment

[image, unknown] Eroded environment1
Mexico‘s generally mountainous environment is extremely fragile. Much of the surface area is either desert or forests on thin sloping soils which are vulnerable to erosion. Just one-fifth of Mexico’s land area is not affected by erosion at all.

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Urban sprawl2
The proportion of a growing population that lives in Mexican cities has increased dramatically.

Urban and population growth in Mexico 1950 to 1990

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[image, unknown] Political monopoly1
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in addition to controlling the all-powerful presidency, also monopolizes the Mexican Parliament.

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Rural retreat1
‘Structural adjustment’ has created the biggest crisis in Mexican agriculture since the Revolution. Small-scale producers now face competition from cheap US imports of staples like maize, while government support has been cut back drastically.

Public investment in agriculture 1982 – 1991 (as per cent of GDP).

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1 OECD Economic Surveys 1991/2: Mexico – Special Survey of a non-Member Country, Paris, 1992.
2 Tom Barry (ed), Mexico, A Country Guide, The Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico,1992.
3 Harry Browne and Beth Sims, Runaway America, Resource Center Press, Alburquerque, New Mexico, 1993.

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