A year of Covid pandemic has pushed Mexicans into dire economic straits

By Miquel Muñoz

Mexico City, Feb 26 (efe-epa).- The losses of many hundreds of thousands of jobs, a spike in informal work and businesses on the verge of collapse are hallmarks of the Covid-19 pandemic in Mexico, a country that has seen millions of its citizens pushed into dire economic straits over the past year.

The story of Rodrigo, a former gas station pump attendant and now a windshield washer at a stoplight street corner, is similar to that of many Mexicans: the coronavirus swept into the country on the last day of February 2020, all non-essential businesses were shut down at the end of March and his job vanished in April.

“Many people became unemployed because of the pandemic. The truth is, I never imagined I’d be in this situation. It makes me ashamed,” he told EFE on Friday at the base of the stoplight on the Avenida de los Insurgentes, a key Mexico City thoroughfare.

Rodrigo had to leave his regular job and begin living day to day, pushed out onto the street equipped with rags and chlorine after his attempt to work with his father, a plumber with no business, failed.

In April 2020, according to figures compiled by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), 12 million people left the economically active population as the pandemic was spreading and the number of informal jobs expanded as a result.

On good days, Rodrigo pockets about 220 pesos ($10.50), money with which he has to pay for the rent, his food and his Internet connection so that his two children can attend online classes.

“You’ve got to get by day to day … Above all for the kids: they ask without knowing whether we have anything or not,” he said, adding that his wife can only work three days a week.

His wife’s situation is another reflection of the economic hardships brought by the pandemic, since according to Inegi the percentage of people working fewer hours than they would like in January 2021 was 15.3 percent, about double the 7.7 percent who said that was their situation at this time last year.

And the formal economy unemployment rate has not been immune from Covid-19, with the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) saying that Mexico lost 3.2 percent of its regular jobs by the end of 2020 with 647,710 fewer than a year earlier.

Ivan works at a shoestore in Mexico City’s historic zone, and so far it’s proven to be a steady job – something that not all his friends can say a year into the Covid crisis.

“They haven’t fired me, thank God. But when we came back to work (in February 2021) after closing temporarily (in December 2020) there were several girls on the team who were no longer here,” he said standing by the rack of shoes on the sidewalk, positioned in the open air to improve social distancing.

Of the 12 million formal and informal jobs destroyed by the pandemic, about three million have not yet been recovered, obliterated by the several waves of a virus that has infected almost 2.1 million Mexicans and killed more than 183,000, making Mexico the No. 3 country in the world in terms of its Covid death toll.

Nationwide unemployment rose in January to 4.7 percent, a figure far above the 3.8 percent registered at the end of the first month in 2020.

Last year, Mexico suffered the biggest plunge in its GDP since the Great Depression in 1932: 8.2 percent.

Those figures also affected Jose Alberto, a kiosk operator in a commercial district of the Mexican capital whose business “has really fallen off” since last February.

Jose Alberto expressed his uneasiness at “battling” with the pandemic, but he added that he knows “several people who are worse off” than he is economically and without any prospects for their fortunes to look up.

“Expectations are to keep fighting to see when (the virus) will let us return to normal,” he said.

A short distance from the kiosk, Edgar, another street vendor, said that the recipe that is helping 55.6 percent of Mexican workers to survive in the informal economy – some 29 million people – is to “reconcile themselves” to the current circumstances.

“When it rains you have umbrellas, but in the pandemic it’s facemasks,” he said regarding his sales strategy, even as some experts are talking about up to 10 million new members of the nation’s “poor” by the end of the emergency.

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