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Coronavirus leading to secondary pandemic of hunger in Baja California

By Wendy Fry, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

TIJUANA, Mexico - Seven days a week, Karina Amaya Salamanca gets up at dawn to set up a tent along a busy highway on the southern outskirts of Tijuana.

From there, she sells cold sodas and hot coffee, earning about $14 a day on good days and less than $5 a day on the less busy ones.

The work is a far departure from the factory job she held before the China-based company was forced to close under coronavirus restrictions. But the 42-year-old single mother of two is in survival mode now.

"Some days, we go without food," Amaya said casually, slowly rocking her neighbor's 9-month-old baby in a stroller. She watches the infant for extra income while she sells refreshments from her tent. Her own children are 19 and 21.

The food she can afford often isn't the healthiest.

"We're living day to day, so we have a little money to buy a little food that day, and that is maybe doing us harm," she said.


Since the beginning of the pandemic, economists and health experts have warned about the inevitable secondary pandemic of poverty hitting struggling countries like Mexico, where 8.5 million people lived on less than $2 a day before the economic recession caused by COVID-19.

Those living south of the border don't have access to the same safety nets that keep U.S. families afloat, such as stimulus recovery checks, rent control or food stamps.

Mexico also has no federal unemployment insurance, leaving workers such as Amaya at the mercy of nonprofits, the kindness of neighbors and her own entrepreneurship. She has been unable to find new work in the factories, which are among the higher paying jobs for hourly employees.

"They do health exams at the door and if you're a little older or if you have high blood pressure or if you are a little chubby, they won't hire you," she said Friday.


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