By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco — In most developed countries, it is pretty easy to know who the seniors are. They are the ones who get discounts at Denny’s and at the hotel and car chains.
There are a some discounts in Mexico for seniors, but not many.
Part of the problem is that is is not clear at what age a person becomes a senior in Mexico, both by government (mis)design and by necessity.
Starting with necessity, as a country with the majority of the population in poverty, most seniors do not have the luxury of no longer working.
Some outsiders romanticize about strong family ties in Mexico, but family unity from a sociological view has more to do with preservation. If I cannot trust my government or my community to take care of me, my family becomes the default security net, even when abuse, loss of individuality and coerced group-think are part of the system.
Mexico defines its population 15 years of age and older as either “economically active” or “non-economically active.”
The ratio, as defined by the Mexican government in July of this year, listed 58.5 percent of the population as active, which to some may not appear dire.
However, of those active, the federal government proudly reported on Oct. 1, that the number of formal workers — 20.6 million of them — was now back to the pre-covid level, and was thus cause for celebration.
The reality is that in total labor force of about 54 million, only about 38 percent of Mexicans have jobs that pay into social benefits such as health and retirement.
It is safe to say that two out of every three Mexicans in the current workforce have no formal retirement savings, so the reality can only be worse for those too old to work.
If someone is poor or lower middle class today in Mexico, they will generally have no formal retirement when they reach the senior years.
And those seniors abandoned by family or those with the entire family working abroad are left to survive as destitute.
One positive practical reality recently announced by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was the reduction in age from 68 to 65 for eligibility for government economic assistance every two months, of roughly $128.
For someone without a pension, $64 dollars a month is barely enough for food, but certainly better than nothing.
So even if the realities of necessity were solved, just how old does one need to be in Mexico to be a senior?
One would think that the answer would be simple. But to the contrary, it is quite complicated and almost comical.
Mexico’s federal law for the defense of seniors’ rights defines seniors as “those who have reached 60 and find themselves in national territory.”
Sounds simple enough.
Mexico’s National Institute for the Elderly (Inapam) also defined seniors as those who are 60 years old or above, and will even issue a free picture ID accrediting each senior as such for basically non-existent discounts.
For the third of workers who have paid in, Mexico’s National Social Security Institute (IMSS) allows retirement at 60, with a reasonable monthly pension, reduced by 5 percent for each five years before the 65th birthday, similar to other countries.
Mexico City’s transportation law, under Article 167, establishes that those 60 and above can ride free on collective mass transit.
So it sounds like the age of “seniorization” in Mexico is 60.
But not so fast.
While 60-year-olds can free to ride the underground Metro free-of.-charge, that same right does not kick in for the above-ground Metrobús until 70. The Metrobus people cannot explain why they break the law, except to say that they officially publish their rates.
Discounts from a notary for a will in Mexico City start at age 64, and no one knows why. Other states vary widely in ages for the same discount courtesy.
By the same token, the discount for yearly property taxes varies by state from a low of 60 years of age in Mexico City to a high of 75 years in Guadalajara.
All this makes one wonder if the Mexican government even knows its own laws and if the different states and government organizations even bother to communicate with each other.
So it looks like a senior in Mexico is 60 years of age, but the benefits are selectively applied at at age 60, 64, 65, 68, 70 and sometimes 75!
Meanwhile, the previously mentioned institution charged with defending seniors’ rights, Inapam, with a 336-million-peso annual budget, has many laudable goals. Yet in its own self evaluation of whether those goals were being met in 2021 (Informe de Gestión Sobre el Desempeño General), the results were deplorable in almost every one of 14 areas measured.
Were the INAPAM a private company, the CEO would surely have been fired long ago.
Reaching out to the Inapam regarding two relatively simple and low-cost initiatives — uniformity in the age for seniors in Mexico and the lack of additional discounts for seniors negotiated by the Institute — there was no response from the institute’s director, Jorge Alberto Valencia Sandoval.
It seems that the Inapam is more of a jobs program for the Secretariat of Wellbeing than a serious advocacy group.
That model may work for a few more years, but as Mexico’s age pyramid continues to transpose with the country’s current median age at 29, and 35 in Mexico City, seniors are now the fastest-growing group.
Life expectancy in Mexico is currently 69 for men and 70 for women.
The vast majority of Mexico’s 17 million seniors are certainly not living carefree lives during their sunset years.