Mexico’s middle class: Too bourgeois to bus tables

woman with shopping bags and credit cardThe Economist, 6/24/2013

OUR report this week from the Mexican-American border points out that Mexicans are becoming too bourgeois to cross illegally into the United States. These days they’d rather stay in high school than risk deserts, rattlesnakes, murderous bandidos and La Migra (as the gringo migration authorities are known) just to bus tables north of the border. In fact, according to an exhaustive report in May by North American experts, known as the Regional Migration Study Group, Mexicans are much more likely to have a degree before going north than they were seven years ago, and the number of years of schooling of 15-19-year-olds is now pretty similar to that in United States. If more educated workers emigrate, it raises their earning capacity, which gives them and their families even more chance of rising up the ranks of the middle class when they and the money flow back to Mexico. In which case, even fewer will need to go to el Norte. That is real progress.

In Mexico, however, many are reluctant to admit that the country has become a middle-class nation. This is partly because so much of Mexico’s historical narrative is about poverty; half a century ago, 80% of Mexicans were poor. It is also because, for armchair socialists, the ways of defining the middle class includes access to things that are often considered abhorrently American, such as those sold through chains like Walmart.  To them, it is almost as if those who cannot afford such trappings of middle-class life are somehow more authentically Mexican.

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