Middle Class Mexicans vs Americans

By LeRoy Jose Amate

I grew up “working class” in Oakland California. Dad was a longshoreman and mom worked in a cannery. They were a dual wage earning family in the 1940’s and 50’s. When most middle class, and even working class, mothers were “housewives”. Fathers were typically the sole economic supporters.

My parents worked harder than the average. They immigrated from Spain as farmworkers. Due to their ambition, we had the nicest looking house and yard in my West Oakland hood. We had a garden, orchard, patios, windmill and well for water. We were the first to have a T.V. and dad always drove a nice car. My dad and uncle frequently took me to baseball games. As music lovers, my parents regularly took me to concerts. We vacationed a lot, but mostly camping vacations. Cheap trips, with lots of family fun.  Amidst the natural beauty of Northern California.

Until the early 1950’s my neighborhood was working class and people of color. All had jobs and the luxuries of “middle class”. Then white suburbia moved in and began to gentrify. My new neighbors were white middle class: educators, professionals, executives, merchants etc.. Their wives rarely had jobs. Raising kids and keeping the household was job enough. Some of these middle class folks even had servants and second homes. Luxuries, that now, only the upper middle class can afford.

The changes began in the mid 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The economy shifted and factory workers lost middle class economic status. The factory closings meant unskilled workers had no job opportunities in the new digital world of “Silicon Valley”: Stretching from San Jose to San Francisco. A forty five mile corridor of exploding home prices. And “yuppi market” directed shops and stores. Driving the working class more and more to the fringes of Bay Area housing and employment opportunity. If you were black and unskilled during this transition. You most probably lost your job and became poor. Your home was no longer in a neighborhood, but in a tenement. Crammed together like rats in a maze. Preying on each other with drugs and violence. Now, three generations later, most still rely on the government for subsistence.

Ronald Reagan demonstrated that the government could cripple unions with RIGHT TO WORK laws. The diminishing of union membership from 35% in the 1960’s to 8% today. Not coincidentally the loss of middle class purchasing power has suffered the same percentage as the loss of union jobs.

Apart from middle and working class income loss. The cost of Real Estate and medical care took huge leaps. Yet, doctors stopped making house calls, took more time off to play golf. And, shortened the time spent with patients. Third party payments from insurance companies eliminated the need for doctors to be competitive in their fees for service. They could charge, like the pharmaceutical companies, whatever they felt the third party payers would pay. Including unnecessary tests and analysis.

Insurance companies would pay and the patient did not know any better. Hospital corporations jumped on the free market, charge whatever, justify expensive tests, band wagon. One hospital administrator in the U.S. today is paid six million dollars a year. His hospital is a “not for profit” institution. Understandably, everybody’s insurance premiums continued to soar.  Why doesn’t the government impose price controls if health care is a human right? Most nations do control the cost of medicine and care. Also, tort reform to curb huge damage claims.

I believe avarice is the principal cause for the accelerated cost of living and inequality over these past few decades in the United States. Personal injury attorneys, athletes, actors, musicians, chiropractors, psychologists, veterinarians, merchants, “men of the cloth”, bankers, lobbyists. .  All deserve to be millionaires and why not? This is the age of ME! It is celebrated in the media, the music and community at large. The average “Joe” can only live the good life vicariously. Watching the rich on “Celebrity” and “Reality T.V.”.

As economist Robert Reich points out: Beginning in the 1960’s, the feminist movement aside. Women had to go to work in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living for their families. The cost of living was outstripping income. Soon, that was not enough.  So credit cards began to supplement earned income. Credit card debt is now “off the hook” in America.  And, finally middle class home equity was used to maintain the lifestyle. Until the bubble burst. Now both parents work longer hours, often with second jobs. “Middle aged” kids are returning home to live with retired parents who were enjoying the “empty nest”.

Who can afford the time and money to go to baseball games? Took my son to a San Diego Padres game.  The day cost me one hundred fifty dollars. Concert tickets that once were five dollars now cost eighty five dollars or more. Top athletes in the nineteen fifties were satisfied making a hundred thousand a year. Now ballplayers in the major leagues make millions. Brad Pitt makes over twenty million for a movie, while movie attendance dwindles. When was the last time you saw a Brad Pitt movie that was worth a damn anyway? At ten dollars a ticket and another ten for pop corn and sodas. It is no surprise that downloading from the internet is the only choice the average American family can afford.

When I moved to Mexico in 1985, it was the height of U.S. materialism.  The first thing I noticed was that the clock had been turned back to 1955 vis a vi middle class family lifestyles in Mexico. Middle class mothers were still “Dama de Casa” (housewives). And, most had domestic help. Either full or part time servants. Gardeners were also part of the standard middle class lifestyle.

In Mexico our primary meal is between two and four pm. And, almost everyone comes home to eat with family. Family is way more important in Mexico compared to the U.S.. My wife is on the phone to her mother and sisters everyday. Visiting her mother every other day. I see my seven brother’s in laws individually or collectively on a daily basis.

Mexican families are less mobile than U.S. families. All the grandchildren and great grandchildren know their grandmother in our family. Not so North of the border. Less for expats who retired to living in Mexico. They hardly see their kids or grandchildren. Mexican families travel together in large groups, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. We share the costs and reap the benefits of more than a married couple to a hotel room. We say “hacemos bola” we create a ball of family in each room rented.

Recently celebrated my mother in law’s birthday. All thirteen kids kicked in for food and music. The feast lasted three days and we had three live bands: Norteno, Marachi and Cumbia.  The cost to each head of family was less than twenty dollars. The center of attention and joy at these gatherings, are the new babies. There is a never ending flow of “new babies”. Another middle class difference.

Now, in 2015 the middle class in Mexico still live as well as they did in 1985. Major reasons: Education is covered, including University. Yes, there are tuitions and textbook costs. But, these are compared to what my university education cost me in 1960 to attend San Francisco State College. The need for student loans were rare in the 1960’s, and like Mexico today, scholarships for the poor were readily available.

Property taxes are nil compared to the states. I paid ninety dollars in property tax last year for my 6 bedroom, five bath beach home on a twelve thousand square foot lot.

In Mexico, the cost of living and entertainment in relation to income is what 1950’s America looked like. A farm league baseball team in Ensenada sells tickets at eight dollars. Mexican fans are more crazy and make the game more fun. I enjoy the farm club games more than the many Oakland A’s games I attended in my hometown. Concert tickets, at our state supported arts center, are also eight dollars. Top performers from around the world are accessible to a wage earner.

Medical care is free. In the U.S. the primary cause for bankruptcy is medical care due to major illness. The average doctor in Mexico earns three thousand a month. Consultations with specialists cost thirty five dollars. Nurses earn one thousand a month. Nurses in the U.S. earn seven to nine thousand a month. Mexican dentists charge forty percent of what dentists charge in the U.S. . Veterinarians charge twenty percent of what a vet charges north of the border. I could not afford the Vet bills in the states for three dogs and a cat. And, they bring me so much joy. Lawyers charge thirty percent of the fees U.S. lawyers charge. Mechanics, plumbers, you name it, no body is getting rich. But, the cost of living allows middle class folks to enjoy the lifestyle I remember growing up in the Bay Area.

Please don’t misunderstand my premise. I am not saying that Mexico is the ideal economic model. There is more abject poverty in Mexico. Corruption and Machismo are huge economic and cultural hindrances to her Advancement. But, poverty is not the subject of this article. It is the middle class.

Psychological studies that measure happiness indicate that Mexicans are the happiest people on the planet. That seems perfectly logical to me. All the studies regarding contentment indicate that a strong family support relation is a profound key to happiness. I have never been happier or poorer in my life since moving to Mexico. “I’m broker than a broke dick dog”. But, when you see me brother: “I be smiling”.

As I stated earlier, greed is rampant in America. The average American is paying the consequences. How do you curb greed among the rich and greedy? You can’t, the American culture is bound to: the accumulation of wealth model. The Raramuri Indians in the copper canyon’s of Chihuahua know that the accumulation of wealth is “the devil’s work”. They point out to us, that all the pollution and destruction of the environment is the result of the economic model of accumulating wealth. Unbridled capitalism and the cavalier use of military force in unwarranted wars is our downfall.  Living day to day is the sacred way of the Raramuri. Our model is not sustainable. The Raramuri model is.

They have learned over centuries the benefits of avoiding wealth accumulation. More family time, more time for them to make incredibly sophisticated musical instruments and play them. Time to dance and run long distance. The Raramuri are world famous ultra marathoners.

They also suffered the exploitation of “outsiders”. Who recklessly mined the canyons. Contaminated their rivers, and deforested their primary building material. They over hunted the region’s deer. The Raramuri’s primary source of protein. Their lifestyle is agrarian and tourism. Making baskets for the tourists and tilling the soil does no harm to the environment or their fellow man. They chastise us as being “the sons of the devil”. Given the destruction we wreak in the name of wealth accumulation.  I say: Yo, what up daddy Lucifer? I is guilty as charged. Studying the Raramuri’s peaceful, happy and carefree lifestyle. That of “living day to day”.  Might help us Americans curb the greed that is polluting our air, water, equality and community spirit. There is a better way America. Just learn from more advanced cultures.

Jose Amate is the founder of www.mexicomatters.info and a foreign investment consultant since 1985. You can contact Amate by tel. U.S. 619 819 9369, Mexico 01 646 1766759. leeamate@gmail.com
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