“A jar of oil is worth more than a working day,” said Natalie Martínez in response to my complaint about the cost of a bottle of water and a chocolate that she had just bought at a store in Bogotá’s El Dorado airport. Natalie is an excellent salesperson, she attends with a big smile and kind words.
While I was packing my purchase, he added: “Before, with 150 thousand pesos one would make a presentable market, with onces for the children’s school. Now enough for a pound of rice, a jar of oil, a six pack of bags of milk and a bucket of eggs, which is worth 15 thousand pesos, half of a working day”.
At that time, he complained about an unfortunate phrase from the president. “According to Duque, the minimum wage is enough to live and even to travel. With one million eighty thousand a month, Duque would not be enough to survive two months.
Since there was no queue behind me, we began to do their accounts for the month. “I pay 600 thousand rent”, she said, “to live with my two children. I live in Arborizales Baja, in Ciudad Bolívar, a neighborhood that is good. The services are worth 150 thousand, because they raised the toilet, from 35 thousand to 58 thousand pesos. Cleaning is more expensive than water! A light market, without onces for the children, is worth 150 thousand, and it does not last a month. That without putting meat. A pound of meat costs 17,000 pesos, after going through all the butcher shops to see where it is cheaper.”
Transportation hasn’t counted there, I said. “It’s 100 thousand pesos for transportation. I leave the house at 3:15 in the morning to arrive at El Dorado at 5:40.” Does it take two and a half hours at that time? I asked. “Yes, because I make five transfers.”
Who picks up the children and takes them to school? “A neighbor, because I live alone with my two children. I pay 240 thousand pesos to take care of the minor all day, because she has a cleft lip and cleft palate. With that condition they do not receive him at school. In addition, 100 thousand pesos for the school of the oldest, because the public schools were taken by the Venezuelans. Of 35 students, 22 are Venezuelans”. I asked her if she received any help from the state, or if she had received it during the pandemic. “I have never received anything.”
Essential expenses amount to 1,400,000 pesos per month. Everything is going up in price and she feels it every day she shops. Inflation can turn your monthly deficit into bankruptcy.
If you can’t find a way to lower your expenses, say, by moving to a room that costs 300,000 pesos instead of 600,000, you might have to cut back on food or child care. She likes the place where she lives, and maybe the neighborhood where the rent costs so little would be scary.
Any way you look at it, the situation brings Natalie to the brink of the abyss. And that she has a formal job, where she is fully paid the minimum. What will become of the millions of Natalies who face the same costs, but live off the rummage making 15 or 20 thousand pesos a day, and not the 36 thousand that Natalie receives.
Where is the father of Natalie’s two children? It is up to him to close the monthly deficit of this family. While that is happening, where can Natalie Martinez get any hope? Of government aid that never came, like the Colonel in the García Márquez story? Could it be that businessmen and the government contemplated raising the minimum a little more? That would help. In difficult times you must think of all solutions