5 days ago
Friday, 23 July 2010
Every night I was surfing off the end of this jetty, dude would reel in these massive cavalas with a frickin' hand reel off slippery rocks, and selling them in town. Last summer, I pulled up an eight inch bass with a hand reel on a calm lake, and let me tell you, it wasn't that easy...
[Note: this the second of a two-parter about switching 'gettin' by' - the series at how people make a living outside of formal employment - from Liberia to Mexico. Please see above post for more info.]
These differing realities mean Gettin’ By in the informal sector comes with very different dimensions in Mexico than how i started writing about Gettin' By. In some ways its completely different, but in others, its just the same: when lacking the ability for gainful employment, people find a niche in the grid. To me at least, Mexico offers a fascinating new dimension to the puzzle.
The biggest difference is that Mexico is incrementally more regulated than Liberia, on all levels. Way more formal employment exists (unemployment officially sits around 6%, though all major indicators suggest that 25 % underemployment accompanies this), and many seemingly informal jobs require permits, registration and a date with the looming giant that is Mexican bureaucracy. Also a much larger, and very organized, illegal economy exists, and provides a massive amount of money. I have found no reliable stats on this.
To unskilled workers, there's not a ton of gratifying options. Anyone you talk to will tell you this. Even university or college grads, tradesmen and other skilled labourers complain lack of options or room to move up in their professions. As the wage status quo means that a lot of these jobs do not come with salaries that don't fit the amount of work or needs of the workers, carving out your own niche can be a more effective means of making money. Cost of living is also substantially higher, so wages come with lesser buying power, and you need more to ‘get by.’
From a documentation perspective, the illegal economy complicates things greatly. In fact, it is not abundantly clear to me yet exactly where the traditional informal economy begins and the illegal economy ends is complicated. ('Informal economy’ is not meant to include the illegal economies such as drugs, prostitution or organized crime, even though such means of earning money do not get measured by traditional economic institution, and it is a very important means of Gettin' By that supports a ton of people worldwide: “black market”, for example, has a different connotation than a money-earning trade not counted in census data.)
Many normal, 'self-starter’ appearing street jobs are actually very controlled by, uh, other forces. Thus, the first people I approached about their seemingly informal jobs had no interest in talking to me beyond the superficial "how da body?" type stuff, and adamantly opposed the idea of photos. Lesson learned.
But everyone I have spoken to about this agrees: the informal economy is massive.
Despite the image of Mexico being constantly immersed in a drug war that prohibits people from leaving their houses, life thrives on the streets throughout most of the country. From the smallest pueblos to the endless colonias in the massive concrete jungle of Mexico City, markets rule. And there’s always something for sale at street level.
Busy intersections always have someone hawking something in the stopped traffic, and markets and street stands are everywhere. And what, you were walking home from work thinking 'where will I get a broom at such an hour?' Luckily the truck with brooms and the ever-present megaphone just drove by. And then you took a bus and were thought, "ooops, I forgot to buy pens:" guess who appears but the dude selling packs of pens for a special price (always with the special prices). And then you got off the bus, wishing you had brought a snack: bang! Tamales, pescadillos and bags of fruit, literally inches in front of your face, and, luckily, a sidewalk full of dubbed movies that you can take right home and watch after dinner (along with a million other things...)
Services also play a bigger role in Mexico’s informal sector. Taking advantage of the needs of the relatively large middle to upper classes, offering additional or temporary labour keeps millions of Mexicans able to pay bills.
I’m still feeling things out, but from what I see, this is the landscape of Gettin’ By in Mexico. Posts about individual people and what they are doing to accomplish this outside of more traditional forms of employment coming soon to an Esteyonage near you.