Mexico statistics body criticized for poverty survey changes

MEXICO CITY – Anti-poverty groups in Mexico accused the national statistics agency Monday of arbitrarily changing the way it measures income surveys so poverty appears to be less of a problem.

The statistics agency, known as the INEGI, defended the changes, saying it “improved” the way it measures income because it suspected people were underreporting what they earn.

According to the government poverty agency CONEVAL, the changes increased estimates of all household income 11.9 per cent nationwide and raised estimates of income among the poorest households by as much as 33.6 per cent.

The change makes this year’s figures impossible to compare to previous years, frustrating attempts to track or study Mexico’s poverty.

The civic group Citizen Action Against Poverty said that changing statistics raised questions about the possible political use of the numbers, and won’t change the underlying problem.

“This ‘improvement’ doesn’t change reality,” the group wrote in a statement. “People’s incomes don’t improve because they change the statistical formulas.”

According to last year’s numbers, 46.2 per cent of Mexicans lived in poverty, and 9.5 per cent were in “extreme poverty,” meaning their income wasn’t sufficient to meet their most basic needs.

INEGI said underreporting of income is a problem in many countries, but has been more pronounced in Mexico. The agency said it detected the underreporting by comparing reported income to economic activity figures, where it found a difference.