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Mexico’s crumbling economy leads to border arrests, more COVID-19 fears

Andy Uhler Sep 10, 2020
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A sign with indications to cross to the United States near El Chaparral pedestrian crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 1. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Mexico’s crumbling economy leads to border arrests, more COVID-19 fears

Andy Uhler Sep 10, 2020
Heard on:
A sign with indications to cross to the United States near El Chaparral pedestrian crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 1. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images
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Border Patrol agents made 38,000 arrests along the southern border in July – up from 16,000 in April. Lots of those arrests are single adults from Mexico. A Border Patrol official said the increase is largely because his agency is quickly sending those single adults back across the border without detaining them – out of virus fears.

But, there’s also another reason for the boost in arrests: Mexico’s struggling economy. Even before Mexico’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 in February, Latin America’s second-largest economy was in a recession.

“To say that the Mexican economy is not doing well is a major understatement,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown at the Brookings Institution. She said over 34 million people are out of work and some 40% of the Mexican population lives in poverty.

Duncan Wood runs the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, and said things are getting worse. Economists predict the Mexican economy will shrink some 10% this year.

“Now, that’s huge. That’s, that’s more than one in 10 of every dollars of the Mexican economy is disappearing,” Wood said, adding that tourism generates more than 15% of Mexico’s GDP – and it has all but collapsed.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, is also reluctant to inject government stimulus into the economy, which isn’t helping.

“During an intense, profound crisis, why wouldn’t you open the purse strings and use this as an opportunity to strengthen the economy so that people can stay employed, and that there is food on the table?” Wood said.

But because they can’t and there often isn’t, more Mexicans have been trying to cross the border for work, often without the proper documents.

“Unemployment has increased dramatically and people desperate for income to support their families are looking to go to the United States,” said Richard Feinberg, who teaches political science at the University of California San Diego.

Mexico is also struggling to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Vanda Felbab-Brown at Brookings said there’s limited access to testing and little opportunity to work remotely, especially for people who work in Mexico’s huge informal economy.

“Often, they don’t have any access to insurance or health care, and their livelihoods are precarious that necessitates that they work daily,” she said.

The COVID-19 official death toll in Mexico recently passed 60,000. Many suspect the true count is much higher.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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