Mexico’s poorest receiving less government funds under president who brought poor to the fore

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Under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, a new approach to social welfare has been adopted, emphasizing universal benefits over targeted assistance. This shift has led to a significant increase in social spending, particularly for senior citizens, the unemployed, students, farmers, and those with disabilities. However, this broad distribution of funds has resulted in Mexico’s most impoverished citizens receiving a reduced share compared to previous administrations.

The introduction of a substantial universal pension for seniors, which López Obrador initiated shortly after taking office, has been a key factor in this change. The pension, which has been expanded to include individuals previously ineligible, has more than doubled since its inception. Critics argue that without additional funding, such universal programs dilute the benefits across the population, potentially exacerbating poverty and inequality.

Despite these concerns, the popularity of López Obrador’s social programs is evident, with opposition candidates in the upcoming election pledging to continue and even expand them. The pension program, in particular, stands out as the most significant in terms of budget, surpassing other initiatives aimed at supporting young adults and farmers.

The reallocation of funds from targeted programs like Prospera, which focused on Mexico’s poorest families, to the universal pension marks a notable shift in the government’s strategy. While millions have risen above the poverty line during López Obrador’s term, factors such as the increase in the minimum wage and remittances from Mexicans abroad have also played a role. Interestingly, the number of Mexicans in extreme poverty has risen since the start of his presidency.

The government’s biennial report indicates a stark decrease in the percentage of social spending received by the poorest segment of the population, dropping from 19% in 2018 to just 6% two years later. The reasons for the absence of the 2022 report remain unclear.

The universal pension has been criticized for benefiting even those who may not need it, as evidenced by the experiences of individuals like Arturo García, a retired cab driver, and César Herrera, who observed that his mother did not rely on the pension for survival. The redistribution of funds has also favored wealthier segments of society, with the second-highest income strata receiving a larger share of social spending.

Researcher Manuel Martínez Espinoza’s fieldwork suggests that the increase in extreme poverty may be attributed to the discontinuation of Prospera and the pandemic’s impact on families’ savings. The debate over the future of social programs continues, with assurances from both the president’s successor and opposition candidates that the programs will not be terminated, especially since the pension is now constitutionally protected.

As López Obrador’s term nears its end, the sustainability of the universal pension program remains a concern, with suggestions that it is depleting public funds too quickly. The shift in social welfare policy under his administration has had profound implications for Mexico’s social landscape, with ongoing discussions about the best approach to support those in need.

Source: AP News