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

The main feature of poverty in Mexico is that, although it is not new, it is serious and affects a large portion of Mexicans. Another characteristic is that poverty tends to be more accentuated and widespread in rural and predominantly indigenous communities. By contrast, non-rural municipalities with larger populations experience significantly lower levels of poverty and greater access to services. The following section addresses the issues of indigenous poverty and rural and urban communities.

Indigenous Poverty: A Common Social Ill

The most emblematic case of marginalization in Mexico, both in terms of the population included and poverty levels, is likely the indigenous people. Unfortunately, this situation has existed for a long time. Over 200 years ago, Humboldt wrote, “The Mexican Indians, when we consider them en masse, offer a picture of extreme misery” (Alejandro de Humboldt, op cit.: 69).

Based on the Socioeconomic Conditions Module of the 2010 National Household Income and Spending Survey (enigh), Coneval estimates that 79.3% of the population was impoverished in that year. Of this percentage, approximately half were living in extreme poverty, which means a monthly income below the minimum welfare line and lacking at least three basic needs. These figures contrast with data for the general population, which is also high: 46.2% in poverty, of which nearly one-fifth were considered as extreme poor (see Figure 4).

The number of basic services that indigenous people lack is higher than for the rest of the population. This is alarming, because these services are basic and the standards applied to determine whether a person is lacking or not are standardized. Moreover, the majority of the indigenous population lives in rural communities where the welfare line and the minimum welfare line4 are considerably lower than in urban communities.

The National Population Council (Conapo) reports that of the 312 indigenous municipalities (where approximately 70% of the population age five years or older speaks some indigenous language), 218 had extremely high levels of marginalization, 75 were very high and only 19 had medium levels. Not one of these municipalities had low or very low levels of marginalization. In another context, of the 441 municipalities that the council identified in 2010 as highly marginalized, 49.4% were indigenous municipalities, although indigenous people only represent about 6% of the national population (Conapo, 2010).

Figure 4. Proportion of the Total Population and Indigenous Population in Conditions of Poverty and Extreme

Source: “Poverty in Mexico and the Federal States 2008-2010” Report, Coneval.

To create Table 5, the 15 municipalities with the highest indigenous populations were chosen to show that these areas have higher poverty levels than the rest of the country. This table shows that average income of the total population is higher than average income for the indigenous population in all cases, exception the municipality of Chamula in Chiapas. High poverty levels in the indigenous municipalities are notorious. For example, 70.9% of the population of the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas, earns income insufficient to buy the basic food basket. In addition, in four out of the 15 municipalities examined here, the poor population exceeds 90% of the total.

4 Regarding income, poverty measurements use two standards: the minimum welfare line, equivalent to the value of the food basket (rural and urban) per person per month, and the welfare line (also rural and urban), equivalent to the total food and non-food basket (including goods and services such as education, health, public transportation, clothing, shoes, health care and others) per person per month. Cfr. Analysis and Measures of Poverty, Welfare Lines and the Basic Basket at http://www.coneval.gob.mx.

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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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