6 out of 10 Mexicans work in the informal economy


The informal economy in Mexico is like the informal grammatical tense in Spanish – it’s the daily form of expression, it’s comfortable, and it makes the formal tense feel a bit awkward when you encounter it. When you eat tacos at a puesto, buy trinkets at the tianguis, give in to temptation and load up on Sabritas and peanuts and beer at the tiendita, you’e paying your pesos into the informal economy, which is really the only economy for 30 million Mexicans.

Earlier this month, the new Labor Secretary, Alfonso Navarrete, explained that the government used to calculate the size of the informal economy using the number of employers who pay their employees under the table (which gave them the number 14.2 million workers), but now they are lumping in all workers who don’t have social security or other benefits. Navarrete deplored this situation because “there is nothing worse than someone being exploited” and declared this administration’s intention is to protect workers; but of course, the other tacit concern for the government is that the informal economy is mostly out of the grasp of tax collection.

The highest concentration of members of this bustling, informal economy would probably be the thousands of street vendors surrounding the Zócalo in Mexico City; attempts to formalize them have never had much success. Manuel Camacho Solís, former PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) mayor of DF and current PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) senator, once commented that those who tried to eliminate street vending in order to make the area more palatable for tourists “feel that the Historical Center should be a reflection of the greatness of our ancestors, but not a mirror of the social reality in which we live.” Besides, I’d guess that those grand ancestors, the inhabitants of Tenochtitlán, would feel quite at home amongst the noise, smells and chaos of the modern melee of puestos; yet another encounter between the present and the undying past in Mexico.


Milenio, La STPS: son 30 millones, no 14, en la informalidad (Jan 2)