Monday, December 6, 2010

Living In and On the Minimum Salary

Miles and I are apartment hunting right now. In the $300-350 range we’ve found some amazing deals and one of the initial problems was finding apartments that weren’t about 3x the size of what we need. Obviously, by western standards, these apartments are incredibly cheap, but knowing that the average apartment we’re looking at is 650,000 pesos, which is about 100,000 more than the minimum salary in Colombia made me wonder what more affordable housing is in Medellin.

When I asked Federico how much the average Colombian living on minimum salary would pay for a house, he said about 150,000 pesos. Add in 200,000 for transport, which especially adds up if you have to take two buses to get to work. The buses are operated by private companies, meaning that you pay every time you get on a bus rather than receiving a transfer like we do in Seattle. For this reason, many people own motorcycles, but of course gas is expensive too. Now add maybe 200,000 a month for food and you’re already at 550,000, the minimum salary.

Even if both partners work and share the house with other family members, it’s very little money to live on. Then imagine throwing children into the mix – clothes, shoes, books for school, etc. However, despite the difficulty of getting by on the minimum salary, I suppose these workers are still luckier than many, given that Colombia has the interesting combination of both one of the highest minimum salaries and one of the highest unemployment rates in South America.

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