Maribel Mendez, a 47-year-old street vendor selling Mexican handicrafts outside the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, a place usually bustling with tourists and locals, is now struggling with her business, as the capital tries to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic under lockdown.
Mendez’s stand is now covered up, since the museum — as well as schools, gyms, theaters, bars, shopping centers and other nonessential services — is closed as authorities step up measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I will have to get a loan. I’m going to have to pawn things,” she said.
Mendez, who earns 150 pesos (about $6.5) a day selling Mexican knickknacks, is one of the many Mexicans who are employed in the informal sector, which accounts for 56 percent of the working population.
This sizable workforce pays no taxes but lacks social security, unemployment benefits or pensions, and invariably has no savings, earning just enough to get by day after day.
Comprised mostly of street vendors, the informal sector relies largely on the disposable income of formal sector employees, who have practically disappeared from the streets to shelter in place amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Mexico reported just five Covid-19 infections at the start of March, but had registered 1,215 cases and 29 deaths as of Tuesday, March 31, most in the capital.
According to the National Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism, the initial day of quarantine alone represented $48.4 million in sales losses for businesses in the capital.
“Fear of the disease? No. What are we going to do without work?” said Mendez, adding that for 30 years she has only closed the stand once during the 2009 swine flu epidemic.
Street vendors are not the only ones whose earnings have been impacted by the lockdown.
At a taxi stand outside the National Auditorium, one of Mexico’s leading venues for concerts and large-scale events that have all been postponed, drivers complain that their business has plummeted by 90 percent.}
Gregorio Mejia, a 56-year-old taxi driver, said he only has a fare up to just $4 in eight hours, compared to about $43 from 20 trips in normal days.
“I’m not afraid (of the virus). I’m afraid of the money I don’t have in my pocket,” Mejia said.
The informal sector will have to withstand at least a month of losses, according to an official from the Mexico City-based Financial Studies Foundation.
“The big question is ‘what is going to happen?'” said the official. “Because if they don’t deal with this sore spot, it could turn into not just an economic problem, but a very serious social problem.”