Toward the end of 2021, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, told the U.N. to “wake up from its slumber” on the issue of global poverty, the PassBlue reported. The popular left-wing president is halfway through his six-year term. He has said that alleviating domestic and global poverty are among his top priorities. In 2020, just one year before López Obrador proposed to the U.N. a first-of-its-kind plan to decrease global poverty, poverty in Mexico increased by almost 4 million people. That year, 55.7 million people in Mexico survived on less than $1.90 a day. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) expected this number to rise in 2022 “due to inflationary pressures.” A closer look at López Obrador’s policies to reduce poverty in Mexico provides insight into the country’s economic future.
Poverty in Mexico
In 2022, about 44% of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, according to the most recent government data. Excluding the negative effects the coronavirus had on economies across the globe, there are three main causes of mass poverty in Mexico:
- Poor Educational Attainment. In 2020, about 5.2 million students dropped out of school in Mexico due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic difficulties, requiring children to work, stood as a significant factor in these dropouts. With the onset of the pandemic, the country also saw domestic violence, child homicides and adolescent pregnancy rates skyrocket.
- The Wealth Gap. The top 20% of the wealthiest households in Mexico have “income  times higher than the poorest 20%” of households. Wealthy people earn about half of the income in Mexico, while millions of people in poverty endure unemployment, underemployment and unfair wages. The distribution of wealth determines who has access to safe housing, water and other infrastructure necessities.
- Corruption. Corruption is rife in Mexico, impacting both political stability and the nation’s economic development as well as “the rule of law, efforts to combat organized crime and the effectiveness of public services.” Money laundering, especially among government officials, is not uncommon. Corrupt local authorities have restricted Mexico’s residents from protesting and expressing their frustrations to the government for generations. Corruption also increases inequality in the country.
López Obrador’s Domestic Policies
In a radical move to change the status quo of policies to reduce poverty in Mexico, soon after assuming office, López Obrador ceased almost all existing welfare programs in the country in favor of a system reminiscent of a universal basic income, where residents received non-need-based cash.
Economists held concerns that the erasure of programs with need-based criteria would result in people not receiving enough benefits. These concerns held weight — For the government to afford to give out cash to all citizens, López Obrador had to cancel the two-decade-long Prospera program. The program “gave cash to mothers living in poverty in exchange for them keeping their children in school and taking them for regular medical checkups.” The program received praise for its success, on an international level.
In 2020, López Obrador transitioned Mexico to remote schooling after the coronavirus hit. Shortly after the implementation of programs such as Aprende en Casa (Learn at Home), which entailed receiving educational content through television and the internet, inequalities became apparent. Especially in rural areas, the inability to connect to the internet meant that rural children could not access the program.
In 2021, López Obrador gave a speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) proposing a global poverty reduction program where the globe’s 1,000 wealthiest people and corporations would donate 4% of their wealth and G20 countries would donate 0.2% of their GDPs.
In 2021, almost 700 million people lived in extreme poverty across the world, according to Development Initiatives. López Obrador said that his plan could produce around $1 trillion annually to fight global poverty. U.N. members will debate his proposal before deciding on its direction, but some leaders have already come out in support.
Future of Policies
Half of his presidential term remains, and despite growing poverty rates amid his policies to reduce poverty in Mexico, López Obrador is still popular, with a 62% approval rating. Economists suggest that if López Obrador implements successful policies to reduce poverty in Mexico, he will be more reputable on a global scale and in debates over his U.N. proposal.
There is Hope
Others have stepped up to fight poverty, even though policies to reduce poverty in Mexico have had mixed results. One organization stepping up to the plate is Save the Children, a worldwide charity foundation that aids the most vulnerable group living in poverty — children. Since 2000, in Mexico, Save the Children has helped to reduce the prevalence of child labor by 80%. In 2021 alone, Save the Children provided assistance to more than 95,000 children. In Mexico, the organization’s work over the past two decades includes ensuring the health and nourishment of 28,000 children, educating and empowering 19,000 children and taking 3,000 children out of the grips of poverty. Save the Children collaborates with local organizations in Mexico and foundations in the U.S. to help more impoverished children in Mexico each year.
With effective policies to reduce poverty, Mexico’s citizens can live a better quality of life. But, in the meanwhile, organizations are stepping in to assist Mexico’s most vulnerable.
– Delaney Murray