Victoria Alvarez Flores worries about the future but tries to stay optimistic. Alicia Vera for Al Jazeera America
By some measures Alvarez was doing better than many Mexicans before she lost her job. Despite working and commuting 85 hours a week, she had a steady income. Over the course of the last decade her salary gradually increased from 2,000 pesos ($231, adjusted for inflation) a month to 8,000 pesos ($620). In a country where 60 percent of workers are in the informal economy and the minimum wage is 65 pesos ($5.10) a day — the equivalent of 1,560 pesos a month — it could be argued that she was relatively well off. Still, she struggled to make ends meet, and now, unemployed, she is not sure what she is going to do.
The first day after she stopped working, her birthday, Alvarez planned to sleep in late.
“After 10 years of coming and going, coming and going, I think that’s fair,” she said. “The next day I’ll see what I will do.”
She heard of an opportunity to work in another laundromat, but it was even farther away and would have paid only 600 pesos a week, just higher than her starting salary a decade ago. To cover all of her necessities — rent, utilities, food, personal expenses — she said she needs to find a job that pays her at least 1,000 pesos a week.
She knows it will be difficult, in part because of the stagnant Mexican economy, but also because of her age.
“I’m already 54, and unfortunately, here, when you are 36, 38 years old, nobody wants to hire you,” Alvarez said. “But it’s not going to be impossible. Something will come up. And in case nothing does … I’ll sell tacos on the corner,” she added, laughing.
According to María Luisa González Marín, professor at the Economic Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), “If you lose your job when you’re 45 or 50 years old, it’s very unlikely that a formal, established business will give you a job. You have to enter into the informal economy.”
The situation is more difficult still for Mexican women, whose work, according to González Marín, is more likely to be considered superfluous. However, she added, women, like Alvarez, are increasingly becoming the principal wage earners. At the same time, “women earn less for doing the same job, working the same hours — everything the same, including having the same training.”
Alvarez is aware of the challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead. Yet she remains optimistic.
“I live today and now, nothing else,” she said. “Maybe I’m wrong — maybe I’m wrong for not thinking about the future. But I say, bueno, the future will come. I already lived the past, and what do I remember now? You have to live in the present. That’s my philosophy of life. You have to live in the present and enjoy it as much as you can.”