Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yucatán has well-educated labor force, but offers one of Mexico's worst job markets

News Analysis -
Penurious local employers understand the cost of everything, but the value of nothing

Mérida, Yucatán -
It's no secret here, with anybody. If you came to Mérida, or to Yucatán state, looking for a sustainable wage, you most definitely came to the wrong place. If you came here thinking that a good education or skilled training would open doors, you erred. Pick yourself up and head down to the ADO terminal for the next bus out of town.

I don't own a car here, but I virtually never take taxis. I like to walk, and if I choose not to, bus service everywhere is excellent and cheap (six pesos, even if you board just to cat-nap on the air conditioned units, which some people do). But one rainy night months ago I splurged (45 pesos) to take a cab for the 12 ride from downtown to my home. One too many Sols made the prospect of a wet evening stroll daunting.

I engaged the driver in friendly chit-chat the moment I sat down next to him. "Desde cuando eres taxista?," I casually asked him. "How long have you been a cab driver?" "Oh, I'm not a taxi driver," he replied confidently. "I'm a lawyer." "Really," I said, not quite sure how to respond. "So am I, what a coincidence." The fact is, I shouldn't have been surprised in the slightest.

Mérida, a city of one million, is filled with educated people working far below their abilities, and 10,000 new graduates exit local college and university portals every year. The topic was the subject of two extensive reports last weekend by an investigative unit of Grupo Mega Media, which owns the city's principal daily paper. The companion articles, Ante un futuro incierto ("Facing an uncertain future") and Jóvenes talentosos sin empleo ("Talented youth without jobs) appeared in print on July 21.

The "mercantilization" of education
The primary source for the second article was a Mexican educator who holds a Ph.D. and specializes in the evaluation of educational systems. He complained of the "mercantilization" of schools, suggesting that thousands have been established in this country solely for profit motives, and without regard to whether they are preparing their students for the work force and the realities of the modern day labor market. Their primary purpose is to turn a profit for the owners, he argued, while noting that "education is a public asset which is intended to physically, intellectually, emotionally and morally prepare human beings. It's not merchandise to be sold in a marketplace."

Although the professor identified no particular trades or institutions, he well could have. Example: Every years dozens of Yucatán schools (private and public) enroll thousands of young people in programs which ultimately award the student a "bachelor's degree" in Tourism. Unlike the United States, Canada and Europe, where almost no respectable college or university would offer a major in what is generally regarded as a job choice not requiring advanced education (the equivalent of being a travel agent), the contrary is true in this state. And quite predictably, for every Mexican who spends substantial time and money earning a "degree" in tourism and who later manages to land a position in that drastically over-crowded field, perhaps a hundred end up waiting tables for the lowest of wages.

Depressing employment numbers, and the root causes
But students deceived by enticing "career" promotional efforts and school proprietors who are more focused on their own financial futures than those of their young charges are only the beginning of the problem, the reports suggest. There are plenty of graduates carrying hard earned, legitimate diplomas in substantive fields, but they still can't get work. A short sighted - cheap might be the better word - perspective of local employers is responsible for the lack of jobs, say the experts.

The statistics cited in one of the articles (Ante un futuro incierto) are staggering. In a recent batch of agribusiness graduates, for instance, 88% were unable to get a job within a year after completing their studies. The same results were in store for graduates in health science (88% unemployed) and natural sciences (90% unemployed). Those with social science, business and administrative degrees fared a little better, but not much. From a pool of 1,707 graduates, only 448, or 26%, could find jobs. One percent entered self-employment, while the other 73% had nothing to show for their diplomas.

The Mexican education professor argues that it's all about the attitudes of employers. In the central and northern regions of the country, business entrepreneurs view employees as the company's most important asset -- and they're willing to pay accordingly for what is generally regarded as a long term investment. In provincially-minded Yucatán, he contends, the prevailing mentality is to hire someone - anyone - as cheaply as possible, even if that person is marginally qualified for the task. The professor argues that state and local governments are complicit in the problem, because their best job offerings often go to those carrying the correct political credentials. In his words:

"It seems to me that (local) businessmen are content with mediocrity when it comes to graduates. They love to pay starvation wages, and unfortunately that's why Yucatán is at the bottom of the pay scale. This archaic attitude is one which bets on mediocrity. If a young and well-educated graduate seeks work in a business firm, immediately (the bosses) will say, "This one will expect to earn more money, because he has a master's degree" (for instance), and they don't even bother to think about his potential. On the other hand, they'll throw low pay at anyone who can more or less get the job done. In the north (of Mexico), the employment mentality is very different, and very entrepreneurial. They bet on excellence, on merit, and professionals there may even have the freedom to turn down two or three jobs until they get the best offer.

"It's the same way with the State (of Yucatán), the other big employer. It hires people based on family connections and recommendations from insiders or the politically-wired, whether those be affiliated with the tricolor (PRI), the blue and white (PAN) or the yellow (PRD). That runs contrary to the State's purpose and the development (of its labor force), because people are hired not based on talent and ability, but on their political or familial alignments."

With these facts in mind, is it any wonder that 48% of Yucatán residents live below the poverty line? (Increasing poverty and rising state debt result in poor economic report for Mexico).

Carlos Slim warns of rising unemployment among Mexico's youngest workers
Telmex magnate Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, noted last week that unemployment in Mexico's 20-29 year old labor force has risen to 40% (Grave desempleo de jóvenes, dice Slim). He warned that when young people decide it's a waste of time to study because of the lack of jobs, some inevitably will turn to other means of making a living -- a clear reference to the country's drug cartels. "Many young people have given up. The problem is very complex, and involves more than wages and labor market considerations. It's ultimate origins are in the breakdown of families and social values," Slim said during an international forum in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Oct. 6 - The Yucatán Secretary of Education claims that many of the state's foreign language schools are of "dubious quality." Of 35 such schools in the city of Mérida alone, only 17 are registered with the state. There are a few decent language schools in the city, but foreign language instruction overall is a huge (and profitable) racket, much on a par with those equally worthless tourism diploma mills.
Aug. 13 - In Progreso, one of the Yucatán's primary harbors and a port of call for many cruise ships, unskilled workers may labor for 12 hours at less than 10 pesos per hour. That's about $9.00 per day. A bakery owner tells a employee, "That's the work we have here, if you like it, fine, if not, go."
July 20 - Lack of jobs steers Mexican youth towards life of crime. There are some interesting stats in this article. In 2011 Mexican drug cartels recruited 30,000 kids 12-18 years of age; in 2012 that number will rise to 50,000. The age group most popular with the cartels is 18-29; they frequently serve as the executioners and enforcers. According to Carlos Slim, that's basically the same group which is experiencing 40% employment. An estimated 14,000 children work for the Sinaloa cartel, 17,000 for Los Zetas and 7,500 for La Familia Michoacana.
Aug. 3 - Poverty in Mexico has a child's face
Aug. 4 - Only 20% of Quitana Roo high school graduates go on to university. The rest enter the general labor market, which is heavily focused on tourism-dependent industries. And that trade is no longer an oasis for most.

Will Quintana Roo state become the next Ciudad Juárez of Mexico?
Amenazan grandes conflictos sociales

Aug. 24, 2013 - Mexican unemployment stats paint a bleak picture for the most well educated
Nov. 27, 2013 - Jóvenes yucatecos mal pagados
Dec. 15, 2014 - Yucatán employers pay lowest wages in Mexico

Related topics
Young women in Mexico suffer from lack of opportunities, entrenched prejudices
Enrique Peña Nieto's biggest challenges will be economy and environment, not drug cartels

Footnote: For an eye-opener on how Mexico treats its senior citizens when they ask for work, read Mexico's "tercera edad:" the lonely face of its disgarded senior citizens, or this recent piece in The Yucatan Times: Mexico´s Discrimination Against Elderly.

Mérida, August 8, 2011. For tens of thousands of Meridans without education or trade skills, the future holds only this. In many outlying areas of Yucatán, it's worse. The government says 48% of the state's population lives in chronic poverty. Such conditions provide a breeding ground for every kind of social exploitation, some of it at the hands of foreigners. A revolting way to die – and to live.

Related posts:
Mexico has increased risk for a "catastrophic economic event" in 2012
Yucatán's growing public debt
What impoverished country is this?
U.S. stands at the brink
Crushed by poverty, Yucatán style


  1. This is just one more of the many issues in Mexico that is part of the never endless vicious circles of "tell me who you know, and I'll tell you are", make it even worse with a yucatecan economy stoke in practises from the last century

  2. "He complained of the "mercantilization" of schools, suggesting that thousands have been established in this country solely for profit motives, and without regard to whether they are preparing their students for the work force and the realities of the modern day labor market."

    This is very true, as is the point about the tens of thousands of graduates from 'tourism degree' programs, and other similar degrees of questionable value in the real world.

    Have you seen the commercials on TV, which lead young people to believe that as a 'licenciado' they will walk into a job with a large office, beautiful view, and even more beautiful secretary?

    I recruit crew (throughout Mexico and Central America) for several upscale cruise companies based in the USA, which offer good entry level wages and a way to gain valuable experience in the tourism industry. I am constantly surprised how often I get the response "But I am a licenciado!" when offering someone an entry level position in housekeeping or the restaurant. These people often have no experience at all, however have been led to believe that they should accept nothing less than a managerial position. And that is a problem, since those positions are few and far between.

  3. I agree with your observations, but I would be inclined to characterize most tourism "degree" programs as of utterly NO value. I personally know several Mexicans who have such diplomas, and each and every one told me that they were not worth the paper they were printed on.

    As you noted, other educational programs here raise similar questions. There are dozens of local schools, for instance, which sell "English language-teaching" courses to locals. English is very important, and many people in Mexico want to learn it, but I question some of the representations these schools make to prospective students (and I'm speaking from direct personal experience).

    There are many, many people in Mérida carrying such teaching certificates. Most of them are working far fewer hours for far less pay than they would like, and most of them barely eke out a living, seldom with any benefits. Starting hourly wages for English teachers in many such schools are about half of what a U.S. teenager could earn from weekend babysitting. But these students were promised a lifetime "career" which would sustain them and their families. Meanwhile, the school owners -- big chains and small proprietors alike -- do quite well.

  4. Oh, my, and in New York City 1 out of 5 residents are too poor to buy food ... in a city with billionaires!