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Why your Mexico City taxi driver might be a former executive

Taxi driver jobs in Mexico City can be a last grasp at economic security for professionals who have fallen victim to rampant age discrimination and recent economic woes.

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent / September 20, 2010

Jorge Antonio Ruiz works long hours driving a taxi. He used to have a white-collar, executive job as the Mexico sales chief for Duracell. Taxi driving has become a last gasp at economic life for experienced professionals who have fallen victim to the economic crisis and/or age discrimination.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Mexico City

The former Mexico sales chief for Duracell pulls out of his driveway at 6:30 a.m. with a flashing meter, ready for another day on the job. Jorge Antonio Ruiz says it’s absurd to think about his past life as an executive while working his rounds as a taxicab driver.

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“How’s that going to help me?” asks the 73-year-old.

Mr. Ruiz’s son, Jorge Antonio, once a newspaper distributor who employed 80 people at his franchise, has also fallen on hard times and has begun driving a taxi like his father.

In cities like New York and Los Angeles, yellow cabs are a stepping stone for immigrants. In Mexico City, taxis can be a last grasp at economic life for experienced professionals who have fallen victim to rampant age discrimination and recent economic crises.

At the city-run taxi training center, the average age of new recruits keeps rising, and close to one-third of the students are now 50 or older, says Emilio Bravo, director of the center.

Gerardo Garfias, a physician who was laid off after two decades in his field, clutches a briefcase with a medical school logo stuffed with taxi documentation for his training course. “I’m embarrassed,” the 53-year-old says. “How can a doctor be a taxista?”

Lack of social safety nets

Throughout Latin America, the lack of a social safety net forces aging workers to remain in the labor force, the vast majority taking menial jobs in the “informal,” or untaxed, sector, says Fabio Bertranou of the International Labor Organization.

The global economic crisis has only exacerbated the problem. Employers are reticent to rehire older workers let go during the recession, forcing more into odd jobs and poverty, says Sandra Huenchuan, at the population division of the UN's Latin America and Caribbean Economic Commission in Chile.

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