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To a man, woman and non-binary individual, practically all Colombians I talk to echo my sentiments that it’s been a difficult year income-wise.
Of course, many people say that their financial situation is tight even if the reality is different. It’s usually best not to give the impression that one has a cash cushion to fall back on, especially in Colombia.
Where the stats lie
Zooming out to the national level for a moment and looking at the chief indicators, Colombia’s economy, in layperson’s terms, can be described as ‘doing OK but could do better.’ (See https://issuu.com/oecd.publishing/docs/colombia-oecd-economic-outlook-june-2023?fr=sY2U1ZTUwNTY2MTA.)
The official unemployment rate, at just over 10 per cent, is comparable to the average figure in the years immediately before the pandemic. Do note, high informal labour levels have to be factored in when discussing the numbers that are truly unemployed in Colombia.
Whatever the case, such headline figures only give a very rough idea of how things are for the individual. A country’s overall economic performance, be it good, bad or mediocre, doesn’t mean the entire population is in the same situation.
For sure, high interest and/or inflation rates have a real-life impact. They can alter consumer behaviour in both negative and positive ways.
However, it can be argued that these are less crucial factors in low- to middle-income nations such as Colombia. What I mean by this is that times are almost always tight for the typical working-class barrio resident, particularly in the cities, with rainy-day funds almost non-existent.
As a single, childless foreigner with a fairly minimalist lifestyle, I am perhaps not the best sample case to study for an idea of how Colombia’s current economic performance is affecting the average working-class person.
For one, the high inflation rates that Colombia has been experiencing haven’t had a noticeable impact on my cost of living.
‘In Bogotá, in my circles in any case, it appears to be a tough time to be an independent worker. Is it ever any other way?’
In the last 18 months, my rent has increased by less than two per cent. What’s more, I am actually paying less in rent today than I was in 2020 and 2021. I did, though, change accommodation quite a bit. Also, if I felt a little more financially secure I’d be seeking my own place — I just can’t justify the additional cost of such a luxury right now.
As for expenditure on the staples, while some things have got notably more expensive, my weekly spend hasn’t shot up in line with inflation. There’s always a deal or three to be got at the local fruit and veg shop. One just needs to be flexible with one’s diet.
It’s my earning power, as mentioned in the opening lines, that has waned considerably of late. In this, I may make common cause with my barrio buddies who work independently, mostly in the construction sector. Patience, paciencia, has been our word of the year.
In Bogotá, in my circles in any case, it appears to be a tough time to be an independent worker. Is it ever any other way? Unlike most of my barrio acquaintances, however, one obstacle for me is that I’m a bit too picky about what I want to work at.
My reluctance, nay refusal, to return to English teaching is a major reason why the number of pesos refilling my pocket has plummeted. I’ve spent more than I’ve earned in each month of 2023 thus far. This looks unlikely to change in the foreseeable, particularly with a trip to my birthplace in the offing.
Thankfully, I have some savings that are generating a little bit of interest, partially offsetting my monthly losses. However, such financial management, to state the obvious, is unsustainable unless I decide to live rent-free on the street or suchlike.
That yet-to-be-booked journey back to Ireland is an opportunity to reset; it should allow for a thorough reappraisal of my situation.
For various reasons, as I recently explained, such a re-evaluation has been difficult to undertake in my current *Bogotá beat*. It hasn’t been infusing me with energy and enthusiasm — although the city itself can’t take all the flak for that.
On the other hand, a return to Ireland scares me somewhat. In my, um, rare angry moments, watching from afar, I see an overpriced, illiberal-liberal, smug state (I thought the English were meant to be the smug ones?). Ireland Inc. is unlikely to be perturbed by such proclamations all the same.
Be that as it may, regardless of where I am in the world I face the same rather disconcerting question: What do I do to not only make ends meet but feel somewhat fulfilled as well? (Feel free to leave your answers to that one in the comments section!)
Leaving behind what has been life on Mediocre Lane in Colombia might just lead me to Awful Alley. Then again, it could be the way to that lesser-spotted Easy Street. Time to set forth and find out while I still can.
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