Poverty in the US versus in Mexico

One of the things I hear most often is how poverty-stricken México is. The way poverty is portrayed about México it makes it sound like there are thousands of starving people sleeping on the streets. If you buy into the hype, then you would expect to trip over homeless people on your morning strolls throughout México. But I’ve never been able to reconcile my personal experiences with the rhetoric.

Almost everyday I come across many homeless people sleeping on benches or on the streets in Orlando. It is not one or two but many. I’ve experienced the same visibility of homelessness in San Francisco, Austin and Washington D.C. Homelessness is very evident in the United States.

In México homelessness is not so visible. Some will argue that I am wrong simply by pointing out the beggars on the streets like Cd. Juárez. I can’t tell you for sure where the beggars sleep at night in México, but I can tell you that no one else can tell you that all beggars in the United States are homeless.

Begging does not equate to homelessness. What I can share with you is that my experience in México is that I can count one hand the number of homeless I see sleeping on the streets in México. In the U.S. it is many.

That is not to say that there are no homeless people in México, it is just that the visibility of them is much less than in the U.S.

Obviously, that is not empirical evidence. But through observation it seems like homelessness, and I will argue news media reports supports the idea that homelessness is an epidemic in the United States.

I can also add another thing to consider. In the U.S., the issue of healthcare is dominating the national debate. One U.S. goal is to offer a national healthcare system for the population. México, on the other hand, has a national healthcare system that has no deductible and zero out of pocket expenses. Prescription medication costs pennies compared to the U.S.

One of the things often pointed out to me in El Paso are the shanty towns that can be seen from the U.S. border. The buildings have cardboard walls and discarded metal or wood roofs. They are put together from discarded materials.

I would argue that the shanty towns are possible in México because the bureaucracy stays out of the way of people trying to resolve their problems on their own. It is my belief that in the US you don’t see the shanty towns because the bureaucracy immediately steps in to shut them down.

In other words, the U.S. bureaucracy stymies the ability for the homeless to resolve their own problems by forcing them to sleep on the streets. In, México, the government, for whatever reason, stays out of the way, giving the homeless the ability to put a roof over their own heads.

Mexicans tend to be more open to allowing people the ability to resolve their own problems.

There is also the notion of community. Poverty-stricken communities in México seem to work together as a community by helping each other out. A neighbor will help another neighbor out by helping to repair a damaged house or roof.

Many U.S. expatriates live in México on Social Security because they can have a better life in México on their benefits than in the U.S. Add to that the national healthcare system and the low prescription prices making the case that it is easier to live in México even in poverty.

Ultimately it comes down to how many people I witness sleeping on the streets. Where there are few in México there are many in the U.S.

For me that answers the question of poverty in the U.S. versus poverty in México.

One thought on “Poverty in the US versus in Mexico

  1. A report on local homelessness made to CC last summer – the Built for Zero Initiative – identified that 31% had some mental illness, 19% were substance abusers, 17% had been incarcerated and 89% were unemployed (no surprise). These populations overlap.

    No quick fix. I keep a handful of dollar bills in my car and hand them out whenever I see one of these unfortunate people and think to myself that, there for the grace of the gods, go I.

    Since I don’t go to Juarez anymore but I do go frequently to Palomas there is a difference, as you note.

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