Volume 44, Number 174,
July-September 2013
Setbacks and Challenges for Social Policy in Mexico
José Narro Robles, David Moctezuma Narro
and Diego de la Fuente Stevens

Poverty concentration is also linked to territorial factors. Mexico is made up of 2,456 municipalities. In nearly half, or 1,222 municipalities, over 70% of the population live in poverty. From another perspective, 40% of Mexican municipalities account for 87.3% of the poor population (see Table 4).

Standard of living differences between municipalities are abysmal. For example, the municipality with the highest proportion of impoverished people is in Oaxaca, known as San Juan Tepeuxila, with 97.4% of its population living in poverty. The area with the lowest portion of the poor is Juárez, Mexico City, with only 8.7%. Although Benito Juárez is not legally a municipality, it may be considered as such for this type of comparison.

Inequality among municipalities and neighborhoods is notable. The Municipal Human Development Index (idh) in Mexico, calculated by the Mexican office of the United Nations Development Program (undp) in 2004, showed that the Benito Juárez neighborhood had an idh of 0.951, which made it the most developed municipality in the country, while the least developed was Coachoapa in the state of Guerrero, with an idh of 0.43. On the municipal level, the score for Benito Juárez was the highest ranking among oecd countries, while Coachapa was the lowest among all nations in this organization. Mexico is undoubtedly still the country of inequality.


The social rights of Mexicans have been guaranteed in our Political Constitution since its ratification in 1917. At the time, this document was considered one of the most progressive of its kind because it guaranteed social rights such as education and health. These goals are still a noble aspiration, but unfortunately have not come true for many of our citizens. The social rights protected in our Constitution may exist in writing, but they are not a reality for all Mexicans.

Although important progress has been made, social policy efforts to increase basic services for the population have been insufficient. According to Coneval, 41% of the population does not have effective access to health services and 65% does not have social security coverage. In addition, nearly 32 million Mexicans above 15 years of age lack education according to the National Institute for Adult Education: 5.4 million are illiterate, nearly 10 million have not finished primary school and 16.4 million have not concluded secondary education.

National averages for education rose from 7.6 to 8.6 years between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011. Still, this figure hides the inequality present among federal states. Twelve states are below the national average.3 On the bottom end of the spectrum are states such as Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, with average education of seven years or less, and at the other end, Mexico City, Nuevo León, Baja California, Coahuila, Sonora and Aguascalientes, with 9.4 years or more (sep, 2012).

Educational inequality is even higher when comparing education by income level. In 2010, household spending on education and recreation was 5.4% in decile I, in contrast with 19.5% in decile X. In the poorest decile, 25.6% of heads of household lack education, while this is true for only 2% of the highest income decile (inegi, 2011).

In terms of lack of education, inequality among federal states is abysmal. The proportion of persons age 15 years or older that have not finished primary education reached a peak in nine states: Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Veracruz, Zacatecas, Yucatán, Puebla and Guanajuato, where between three and four of every ten people have not finished this level of school, according to Coneval data.

3Campeche, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Yucatán and Zacatecas.

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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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