When I first started traveling in Mexico there weren’t many cars on the road. Seriously, in a ten-mile stretch of highway you might pass 10 or 20 cars or trucks going the other way. Mostly you saw truckers hauling goods and buses hauling people. Not many Mexicans could afford a car. This was still true in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. In 1975, a buddy and I hitch-hiked down the trans-peninsular highway in Baja, took the ferry over to the mainland at Mazatlan from La Paz, finally ending up in Belize a couple of months later, bedazzled by all we had seen and done. But we got very few lifts by thumb and ended up on trains and buses for most of the way because rides were hard to flag. There just weren’t many passenger cars on the road and most of them you saw were barely running and only going a short distance.
Mexico then was a land of the rich and the poor – not much in between. Decades of rule by the dinosaurs of the PRI had produced a country, although rich in resources, stuck hopelessly in a class system that provided little chance of upward mobility. By the mid-1970’s nearly 50% of the country population was living in urban areas, up from just 20% in the 1940’s. By 1980 that number was over 70%. Many were fleeing their farms while others sought a better life north of the border. A small middle-class was forming as manufacturing increased, but most of the country was still poor, by any measure.
I have really seen a difference in the past 11 years or so, ever since President Vicente Fox of the PAN party was elected in 2000. He paved the way for foreign investment in the country, liberalized trade laws, and instituted market-oriented economic policies, as hundreds of thousands of jobs were created. And although many of these jobs were minimum wage, many more were not. Increased tourism has also been a major factor in well-traveled pockets around the country, as foreigners discover all that Mexico has to offer.
It is now estimated that 20% of Mexico is now middle-class, and that number is rising fast, despite the global economic downturn. As I sat in the Mexico City airport recently I marveled at the changes I have witnessed. Mexican families flying around the country and abroad, dressed in designer duds (they looked a hell of a lot better than I did), peering into their laptop screens, texting on their phones. This is a country in transition, and it is so uplifting to experience this major shift.
The irony is that Mexico is building their middle-class at the same time that the U.S. is rapidly losing theirs. Unless the U.S. can restore some sanity and fairness in their policies, I think that Mexico could possibly become the more powerful economy by the end of this century. They have the resources, the work-force, and the will. That’s a proven formula that seems to have been forgotten by their northern brothers.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blogs are completely my own.