The Poorest States In Mexico

An aerial view of urban living area for lower to middle class in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. Image credit: Ulrike Stein/
An aerial view of urban living area for lower to middle class in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. Image credit: Ulrike Stein/
  • As of 2018, 42.9% of Mexico's population lived in poverty.
  • Chiapas is Mexico's poorest state.
  • All of Mexico's three poorest states are in the south of the country, which is significantly poorer than the country's north in general.
  • Mexico's three poorest states all have large populations of historically marginalized indigenous people.

Mexico is home to more than 129 million people, many of them considered poor. In fact, according to Mexican government statistics, 42.9% of all Mexicans lived in poverty as of 2018, roughly corresponding to about 52.4 million people.

Poorest States In Mexico

Southern Mexico Is Poorer

Although poverty exists in every part of Mexico, much of it is concentrated in the southern part of the country, especially in three particular states: Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. These states, respectively, have the first, second, and third highest poverty rates in Mexico. Collectively, the three states have an average poverty rate of 69.8%, which is well above the aforementioned national average. In addition, more than a quarter of people residing in these states have been described as extremely poor, versus 7.6% of the national average.

Why So?

Southern Mexico is generally poorer than the more developed northern part of the country for a number of reasons. Firstly, the three states contain larger indigenous populations compared to other Mexican states. Indigenous people in Mexico tend to be poorer than Mexicans of non-indigenous descent, and have been consistently marginalized politically, which means that they have not had much of a voice in Mexico’s institutions of power. Moreover, many of the indigenous people in Mexico’s three poorest states are monolingual, knowing how to speak their own indigenous languages, but not Spanish, which is the country’s official language. In fact, it has been estimated that 22.1% of people in Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca do not speak Spanish.

Southern Mexico in general is also at a disadvantage due to its topography. The region contains three mountain ranges, which isolate communities from each other, making economic development more difficult. The lack of development has led to a situation in which nearly half of the people residing in the country’s poorest states live in communities of less than 2500 people. The three poorest states’ lack of industrial development has hampered their ability to attract international investment. Indeed, they accounted for just 2.5% of cumulative foreign direct investment into Mexico in the period between 1999 and 2017.

The Three Poorest States In Mexico

Here are some notes on Mexico’s three poorest states based on poverty rate: 

1. Chiapas - 76.4%

Chiapas is the state with the highest poverty rate in Mexico, at 76.4%. In addition, nearly a third of poor people in Chiapas are living in extreme poverty. Another reason Chiapas remains so poor is the marginalization of its population. More than 5.4 million people live in Chiapas, and about a quarter of them are indigenous. Historically, indigenous people in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico have been systemically mistreated and marginalized by Mexicans of European heritage, especially wealthy land owners. These land owners cemented their continued power by allying with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated Mexican politics for most of the 20th century. This alliance helped the land owners block land reforms that might have benefitted the state’s indigenous population. 

2. Guerrero - 66.5%

The State of Guerrero is Mexico’s second poorest state, with 66.5% of its population living in poverty. More than a quarter of Guerrero’s poor live in extreme poverty. Unlike Chiapas, Guerrero has an abundance of natural resources, as well as a growing manufacturing sector. Tourism is also very lucrative for the state’s economy. The popular tourist resort city of Acapulco is located in Guerrero.

Despite some economic growth and development, however, most of Guerrero’s people remain poor. As in Chiapas, Guerrero has a large indigenous population that has not seen much of the state’s wealth trickle down to them. Between 2008 and 2018, the state’s overall poverty rate fell only two percent. More than half of the state’s population lacks access to basic house services like water and electricity, and more than a third lack access to food.

3. Oaxaca - 66.4%

Oaxaca is Mexico’s third poorest state, with a poverty rate of 66.4%, just 0.1% less than that of Guerrero. The state actually saw an increase in the poverty rate between 2008 and 2018, with the rate in 2008 being 61.8%. On the bright side, there was a reduction of 5.1% in the rate of extreme poverty in the same ten year period. As in Guerrero, more than half Oaxaca’s population lacks access to basic home services. In addition, more than a quarter of the state’s population lacks access to food.

Oaxaca, like Guerrero, has a significant tourism industry, but is otherwise very underdeveloped. One reason for the lack of development is disagreements between the state’s various indigenous populations over developing the state’s natural resources. Lack of infrastructure and mismanagement have also hampered the state’s economy.

The Future Of Poverty In Mexico

Mexico is still a developing country with many of its people still living in poverty. In fact, the national poverty rate between 2008 and 2018 only fell 2.5%, so poverty alleviation in the country remains slow. In addition, discontent among the poor masses, especially in the south of the country, where the three poorest states are located, has boiled over into armed insurrections. In 1994, for example, Chiapas saw the emergence of an uprising led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) meant to draw attention to the issues of the region’s indigenous people. In 2018, Mexico elected its first president from the country’s south in over a century, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who many believe will bring the change that Mexico’s poor badly need.

The Poorest States In Mexico

RankMexico StateShare of population living in poverty in 2018
13San Luis Potosí43.4%
15State of Mexico42.7%
16National average41.9%
23Mexico City30.6%
26Quintana Roo27.6%
30Baja California23.3%
32Baja California Sur18.1%
33Nuevo León14.5%

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