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A client waits for his chicken from workers wearing face masks as a precautionary measure amid the spread of coronavirus at the Centro de Abastos in Mexico City. Photo: Marco Ugarte/AP.
A client waits for his chicken from workers wearing face masks as a precautionary measure amid the spread of coronavirus at the Centro de Abastos in Mexico City. Photo: Marco Ugarte/AP.

#Stayhome, a privilege few can afford

The initiative presented by the government to encourage people to stay home is a luxury that only a few could afford in Mexico, where informal commerce…

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Coronavirus has triggered an economic crisis that’s been brewing for several years. After three months with the economy on pause, in an attempt to re-boost the markets, many countries have decided to go back to "normal."

Such is the case in Mexico, where on  Monday, despite statistics showing 25,000 deaths, has shifted to an orange phase, where industries like restaurants and hotels can reopen at 30% of their total capacity.

An industry that didn’t stop working throughout the three months of quarantine was informal business. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), over 50% of Mexicans work informally. 

However, since almost the entire informal industry takes place on the streets and its commerce depends on the support of pedestrians to have an income, the #stayhome (#QuedateEnCasa) initiative proposed by the government has had a major economic impact on them. 

“People on a fixed income can stay at home, but don't tell me not to go out because I have no choice,” said Juan Cristóbal Hernández, a resigned shoe cleaner, who tries to hide his frustration counting the few coins he has earned throughout the day. 

As has been shown since the beginning of the pandemic, the ability to stay home is a privilege that just a few citizens can afford. Even though government initiatives show the risks involved when going out, some people cannot allow themselves to miss a couple days of work.

“Those who have money can stay at home, but those of us who sell newspapers have to go out to work every day, there’s no alternative,” said Michael, a newsstand owner, who after three months has learned to be patient. “Fear must be put on hold.” 

Workers in informal businesses have no contract, nor guarantees of any kind. They live in a "day-to-day" economy. Since they do not pay taxes to the government, they are people who lack social security and labor rights. 

The increase of informal employment in Mexico in recent years is the result of inefficient reforms and policies imposed by the government. Legalization procedures are time-consuming and can take several working days to be completed. 

As stated by Juan Hilario Mejía, another stand owner: “Even though I have my paperwork in order, I'm being dragged away. I cannot give myself two days without coming to work because I live day by day and I need the money.”

As a consequence, informality has become the norm, where 56 out of every 100 jobs belong to the field. According to Proceso, “informal businesses are an outlet for those who didn't find income on formality.”

Despite the exposure and the risks of going out, the informal economy couldn’t be stopped during the pandemic since it is maintained from day to day basis and costs don’t cease either.

“If we stay home, maybe we won’t die of coronavirus, but we will die of hunger,” said Fernando Torres, a market employee, through a mask that covers his anger while he patiently waits for customers to show up.

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