Mexico is not a poor country

Unemployment in Mexico 1995-2006

Is there a word for negative romanticization? Dysnostalgia? In all of the commentary recently on immigration and the relationship between the United States and Mexico I’ve seen a lot of things written about Mexico that I think should be clarified a bit.

The chart above is a chart of the rate of unemployment in Mexico over the last ten years derived from data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (thanks to LatinFocus, from which I, er, borrowed the chart). As you can see, the unemployment rate has been hovering between 4% and an amazing 2% for most of that period. Here are are few other interesting economic facts about Mexico:

Unemployment rate (2006) 3.6%
GDP $1.068 trillion
Per capita GDP $10,100
Growth rate 3%
Gini index 54.6

Note that Mexico’s per capita GDP is roughly that of Russia’s and greater than that of soon-to-be EU members Bulgaria and Romania.There are lots of things that one could potentially conclude from these statistics including that the unemployment statistics are false. However, I prefer to conclude that Mexico is not a poor country—that’s living in the past. Mexico is a middle-class country with a lot of poor people in it. The Gini index (a measure of income distribution equality—0 would be everybody making the same amount, 100 would be one person deriving all the income) is higher than ours and ours is somewhat high by European standards. The growth rate, too, is respectable.

It’s not that people in Mexico can’t find jobs. It’s that Mexico is the neighbor to a very rich country and the labor markets for the two countries are progressively moving towards being a single market. Of course, labor tends to move to the higher-paying jobs.

I continue to believe that more should be asked of Mexico:  it should be shouldering responsibilities proportional to its status in the world.

33 comments… add one
  • J Thomas Link

    You link to economic estimates from the CIA world factbook.

    Are these CIA estimates, or did the CIA use mexican government estimates?

    If it’s mexican government estimates, why would we believe them?

  • The CIA Factbook is generally considered a fairly reliable source for the sort of information I reported. They don’t rely solely on official government sources for their info. Here’s how they characterize their sources:

    The Factbook staff uses many different sources to publish what we judge are the most reliable and consistent data for any particular category. Space considerations preclude a listing of these various sources.

  • J Thomas Link

    OK, suppose it’s true. Then that makes it even more desirable to work out an agreement for mexico to join the USA.

    Mexico’s economy would do even better under US law. And mexico’s economy would be our economy too. Our southern border would be much much shorter. Our problem with mexican immigrants would vanish completely.

    It would take a long time to negotiate the details, if the mexicans would even agree. We should start now.

  • Yes, I’ve posted on that subject before. I think it’s inevitable.

  • Note also that Mexico has an illegal immigration problem of its own that it’s dealing with pretty harshly, ironically, using its military. Most of the illegals are from Central or South America.

  • thankful Link

    Thank you for this article.

    I am ashamed of myself. I consider myself to be pretty worldly. Having traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Australia, and getting my news from the BBC World Service and the like….but I am ashamed about how little I know about our nearest neighbor.

    I googled “Mexico is not a poor country” Because I was reading the Wikipedia entry on First World Countries…and when I saw Mexico on the list I was baffled…and so I went to the article on Mexicol..and was shocked to see their GDP in the trillions and that their standard of living is 13th in the world and they enjoy a greater quality of life than people in South Korea, China, and Brazil….all countries I have visited..and all countries where I saw poverty..but still saw a lot of people living rather comfortably with a lot of technology and modern conviniences.

    So my next question is why do Mexicans come to the USA at all and that lead me to your article. I have actually been to mexico..but I am fro mCalifornia so I’ve seen Tijuana and only been as far south as Rosarito…Tijuana is pretty bad but no worse than Compton in LA and after leaving TJ and going to Rosarito…I would have placed Mexico in the second world….but am shocked as ever that in the last hour I have found out so much about Mexico and about how rich Mexico actually is and how comofrtable a lot of the people live.

    Are you proposing in your article that we create a United North America modeled after the EU? I don’t like leaving my email address behind but I will book mark you and see if you update this further…though it looks like you published this article quite a few months ago.

  • I wouldn’t say I’m proposing such an arrangement; more that I think such an arrangement is inevitable. And that, rather than treating Mexico as a poor relation, we need to recognize that the country shouldn’t be behaving like a poor relation, either.

    I, too, have been to Mexico. What struck me immediately was how racist it was. The poorest were obviously mostly of Indian descent; the middle class mixed; the upper of mostly or entirely European descent.

  • Im mexican, living in mexico city (with a GDP per capita of about 18,000 dollars).
    Exactly Mexico ain’t a poor nation, but have quite a income differences something easily found by Gini Index.
    the people is mostly uneducated and so unable to find skilled jobs and decent earning, but yet is well known that people with a high education can earn almost as much as their American and European equivalents in several positions, but yet several million of people depend on the agriculture (and remains a very backwards sector with lots of underinvestment).
    Mexico could do much better with a revamp on their rules and institutions many of them date of the 30’s-40’s and remain as rigid rules in labour, energy and other key sectors.
    also taxes remain light and most of people and corporations don’t pay them, this damage the capacity of the goverment to raise infrastructure, education and other useful resources to realize the full potential of a country like mexico.
    and to finish my brother have been in Brazil, Thailand, England, Switzerland and France to discover that living standards in mexico city ain’t such low, and even foreigns (i have a Finnish friend who lived and love the city and aims to finish the university to migrate properly to Mexico) such Sami, even found the city lovely, with a very decent living and claiming that poverty is a multidimensional issue, also found in his homeland Finland a place with 3.5 times the GDP per capita of mexico and twice that of mexico city.

  • PS: i know a lot of people and even in my own case, where the family anual income is about $20,000-50,000 which is liveable even for countries like Germany, Great Britain and US, this group or families is easily found in Mexico City and Monterrey

  • Antonio Link

    I agree that Mexico is not as poor as many may think. But I doubt that Mexico would accept to be part of the USA. We have our own nationalism and many don´t want to be part of the USA. We could have an arrangement like the EU, where all countries are independent and are equal and have their own laws. But an arrangement that is going to “annex” Mexico is not going to pass in Mexico´s Congress.

  • PK Link


    I think you need to check your sources. South Korea is a developed and advanced economy with a very high std of living (relative to other countries in the world). Mexico is definitely not at the same level as S. Korea in terms of quality of life or std of living. I agree that Mexico is not as poor as people think, but “poor” and “wealthy” are relative. Mexico is a developing economy with a average std of living, but is not generally accepted as a developed or advanced economy with a high std of living or quality of life.

    “I was shocked to see their GDP in the trillions and that their standard of living is 13th in the world and they enjoy a greater quality of life than people in South Korea, China, and Brazil…”

  • samantha Link

    i disagree mexico is a wealthy ass country

  • Israel Ruelas Link

    Umm…. Yeah Mexico does live just as good or better than S. Koreans!! Mexico does have a lot of poverty but no one is starving in Mexico. I have some korean friends that went to Mexico for a vaacation and No they did not go to cancun they went to Monterrey and i believe Tampico, not sure. And what they told me was that Mexico was no worse than Korea and they also asked me why so many Mexicans migrate to USA. (One thing people forget is that in Texas, California and in other southern states; there was always Mexicans here since the begining)

  • El Sinaloense Link

    Viva Mexico!!!

  • MisterZ Link

    The reason why Mexicans of lower income migrate to the US is very simple to understand: in the US they can make in a week what in Mexico they can make in a month. There’s a Pew Hispanic Center study that shows that something like 95% of illegal immigrants left a paying job in Mexico. And I know for a fact that migrating to the US is not the dramatic, heart-wrenching, full of peril process you see in the news. People who migrate are invited by some friend or relative already living in the US, and they use their friendly coyote for a reasonable price. Sure some poor noobs die in the desert, but only a few hundred, compared to the literally millions who cross back and forth each year. More Americans die commuting to work.

  • Jr Link

    Mexico does have almost the same, if not higher living standards than the U.S.

    Also I’d like to clarify that not all immigrants are Mexican. I read a British article which evaluated Immigration in different part of the world. One was the US-Mexico border, and out of 400 surveyed, only 47 were truly Mexican. A huge, 312 of which were from Central American nations, while the rest were from South America, and Some Caribbean nations. The simple fact is that Americans generalize all Hispanics as “Mexicans” when it is not accurate, and it can be downright offensive to some people.

    I have been to Russia, China, S. Korea, many S. American nations, and much of Western Europe, and can say from experience, that Mexico has higher standards of living than China, and much of Russia, it has higher standards of living than all the South American countries I’ve been to, with a similar if not higher standard of living than South Korea (Several of the places in South Korea I visited looked like the part of Mexico I lived in). And of the European countries I went to, Portugal and Spain had a standard of living which was very very similar to that of Mexico, and Parts of Spain (Like a portion of Eastern Toledo I visited), looked like the Mexican border towns, and the border towns are considered shabby by Mexican standards as well. Parts of Italy I went to had an undeniably Mexico look to it, but considering Mexico has a more European type architecture to it than its northern neighbors, that’s bound to happen. But for the most part, Italy was the next notch up in terms of living standards. It’s what Portugal and Spain are starting to transition into, and what Mexico will start transitioning into within the next 15 to 20 years. The point is that the common American belief that Mexico is poor, is a big misconception that tends to be fueled by Hollywood. There might be poor people, but all countries have them, and the U.S. is no exception. The major problem is that from the American point of view, everyone looks poor, even Japan-who has the second largest economy in the world. The US is an economic giant, therefore the U.S is a country that is hard to impress.

  • Jr Link

    Sorry, in the first statement, “Mexico does have almost the same, if not higher living standards than the U.S. ” I meant to say S. Korea instead of U.S. That was a typo on my part.

  • Dragon102 Link

    mexico is not poor.illegal people just come to u.s.a to have jobs.mexico has beutyfull beaches like acapulco,large cities like mexico citie, and a very peaceful place to’s not the presidents fault that mexico needs more houses,stores,money,etc,it’s the governor of mexico that doesn’t do nothing.he should expand farther from mexico city and make house,money,and companies in the north part of mexico.But mexico is not poor

  • MoonLander Link

    I agree with what somebody else already wrote in regards to the relative poverty of Mexico when compared to the United States. As a mexican who has visited the U.S. multiple times I dare to conclude that the reason making many mexicans to look for a job in the U.S. is mostly economic. Most mexicans enjoy living near their families and want to be close to their parents as long as possible. However, regardless of educational and economic level, they also know that they could make more money working in the U.S. or in Canada. Unfortunatelly for those “gringos” who hate seeing ilegal migrants in their cities Canada is further north than the United States. As you already noticed geography heavily influences the decision making process of mexicans when it comes to chose the country to which they will migrate. I know the illegal alien stereotype depicts a brown skinned, short, dark haired, poorly educated and english languaje handicaped individual. However, there are MANY middle class, well educated and bilingual mexicans who decide to go in search of the american dream. Physical characteristics in this group are very diverse and do not neccesarily match the ones portrayed by Hollywood. Most mexicans FEEL that living in the U.S. would imply having a somewhat reduced social life as the number of true friends they could make would never match what they are used to and that the free time available to enjoy the expected greater income would also be limited. Even so, economics seems to be a greater driving force. Contrary to what the Arizona’s governor says, the vast mayority of undocumented mexicans in the U.S. are peaceful, friendly and hardworking people. It is not in the nature of migrant mexicans to look for trouble and if you hear about criminal acts commited by one or more mexicans it is because every population has what in statistics they call “outliers” (observations numerically distant from the rest of the data). The Drug dealing phenomena is a different issue that would take me a looooong time to include in this suposedly brief comment. Would you accept as a logical possibility that if Canada had a GDP ten times bigger than the one of the U.S. MANY americans would go there looking for a job? Well (I asume you answered “yes”), given the cultural similarities between those two countries (leaving the Quebec region out of the equation) I believe it would not take long before their governments decide to propose to engage at least in forming an economic union. Mexico has a complex history that created several issues, including poverty, to be addressed. I do not know how long it will take to fix those issues but I am sure it could take much less time if instead of spending trillions of dollars on Irak the U.S. decided to actively work on respectfully lead and organize its neighborhood to achieve important common goals. False nationalisms here and there would make that extremelly difficult but, if achieved, the benefits would greatly exceed the costs. I could carry on trying to explain my view of this intrincated topic but I fear I already wrote too much more than the average contributor to this thread. Hopefully I offended no canadians, americans or mexicans in the process. See ya.

  • Catman Link

    According to UN Human Development Index:

    South Korea is the 12 best standard of living in the world.
    On the other hand, Mexico is 56th.

    South Korea’s nominal per capital income is $21,000, for 2010
    Mexico’s nominal per capita income is $8100, for 2009.

    South Korea’s PPP per capital income is $29,500, for 2009
    Mexico’s PPP per capital income is $13,500, for 2009.

    South Korea’s life expectancy is 79.8 years in 2008
    Mexico’s life expectancy is 75.1 in 2008.

    South Korea’s infant mortality rate in 2008, 4.7 per 1000 births.
    Mexico’s infant mortality rate in 2008, 15.3 per 1000 births.

    The list goes on and on, but Mexico does not even compare to South Korea when you compare all the social indices.

  • omar Link

    I conclude with this, everyone loves their homeland and it takes alot to leave it behind. I own a pest control business in Texas. I live in a bordertown, I am a homowner in a upper- middle class area. I thank God I was born & live here in the USA. I am of Mexican descent. I do wish though that I could have the same in Mexico. If I could I would leave in a second. Unfortunatley we can’t, there is too much violence and a terrible drug war. What I am trying to say is that alot of people shuv it in your face that if you don’t like it why are you here? We are not here by choice, but because we want a better life for us and our kids. I pray to God that we Americans never have to make the choice of leaving our country, our traditions and our patriotism behind. Japanese are finding out that having the 2nd. strongest economy in the world sometimes doesn’t mean much. There will always be things money can’t buy. I bet alot of Japanese are wishing they lived somewhere else right now. Anywhere where the floor won’t shake.

  • Jiji Link

    It has been my privilege to live in Mexico City for the past 2 years and nothing makes me more happy then to see the faces of astonishment when my American friends and family come down here and see a much more developed city with ultra modern buildings, cosmopolitan malls, fancy cars, incredible nightlife and beautiful people than the “first world” city they just came from. It’s true, the country has many problems but too see so many negative posts towards Mexico on blogs and social websites just makes me want to invite all those hillbillies and change their mind. Mexico is a wonderful country but unfortunately is one of the most underrated countries in the world as well!! Thanks for this wonderful post and to conclude on the discussion: Mexico will never become part of the states. Mexicans are so proud of their country and their traditions that their nationalism would never let them (and honestly unification would completely destroy this culture)

  • Germanmexican Link

    This is a very interesenting discussion. If you can read in Spanish, there is a very interesting cover article in this month´s EXPANSION magazine, which is a highly reliable business publication. Check some od the facts about Mexico and you will find that yes; we still have poverty, crime and corruption BUT, while Brazil is overrated (nothing againsth them, they are doing great and I love their beautiful country), Mexico is one step ahead in many fields. Brazil has even a bigger violence index and nobody is scared about investing there!!!

    Again, thanks for the posts.

  • tino Link

    So what s the point here. I f mexico is poor here in the USA we have poor states and do we believe what our government tell us. If Mexico becomes rich is better for us but it looks that we want to be the only country in the world that makes money. China is doing also great , what we need to do is prepare our people so we can be ready to compete.

  • Gerald Link

    Honest people have ‘inquiring’ minds—-I live in Mexico—don’t try
    to tell ME that Mexican ‘unemployment’ rate is 4.9%–
    BULLSHIT! and ‘everybody’ with a brain ‘knows’ it! Did you ever
    look into how they derive it? BET NOT!

  • Gerald Link


  • Xavier Link

    Thank you for the great article!
    I’m 3rd generation Mexican-American living in San Francisco. Sadly, many people believe that Mexico is a poor country and that every “mexican” that lives in the U.S. is illegal or poor. Most people don’t realize that Mexico is a very rich country. Of course there is a lot of poverty and I’ve seen it myself, but I have also seen poverty in the U.S.. Unfortunately, poverty is a universal problem and exists in every nation, and Mexico is no exception. Nevertheless, I have traveled throughout Mexico and I see a large mid-class who live happy stressful lives. I go to Mexico City and see the countless and countless of high-end shopping malls and flagship boutiques such as: Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. People laughed when Saks Fifth Ave announced they were going to open a store in Mexico City. Last year they opened a second Mexico City store. So yes…there are many mexicans who live in poverty, but there a millions and millions of Mexicans who live wonderful happy lives staying in Mexico.

  • Hazael Moreno Link

    Yeah, okay some parts of Mexico are not poor or or crappy or even shabby. But the truth is this: there are millions of children who have to help their parents earn a living. I don’t know if I can post it here, but I just saw a video in Facebook of a 4 year old shining a mans shoes and charging him 10 pesos which is less than a dollar. Mexico is rich and poor. The gap between the richest and the poorest is humongous. So don’t say Mexico is not poor because it is. It mexico weren’t poor, 4 year olds wouldn’t not have to shine shoes so their family wouldn’t starve.

  • Helen Link

    You obviously do not understand how a poor country is defined and measured and it is NOT by “4 year olds wouldn’t not have to shine shoes so their family wouldn’t starve.” Do you know anything about hunger in the US? Yet that doesn’t define out country as “Poor?”

  • jlo Link

    Mexico is an emerging power,the USA and its gringos have always being jealous of Mexico ,Mexico is a rich country in many ways culture,food,natural resources ect,ect,plus Mexico have always being here in north America and all gringos,blacks,Asians,ect,please go back to your original countries..

  • Dave Link

    There seems to be a great disparity between the rich in major Mexican cities and the very poor in US border towns such as Juares and Tijuana.
    Here in the US we do have disparity between rich and poor but not as great. US migration from poor cities and towns are usually a result of industry moving out of the area that employed many of the residents (such as Detroit-auto manufacturing.) Those migrants move to better jobs within the US. I guess moving across the border into the US and thereby increasing your income dramatically is worth the risk of danger in crossing and the minimal risk of deportation. However it is illegal and if the US politicians decide to enforce their all ready existing laws, the risk of deportation is greater. What if the border town immigrants chose to move to the large and prosperous cities in Mexico, instead of across the border. I would think they could provide a higher income, better education and living conditions for their family and in the future become politically active and change the system and narrow the disparity between cities.

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