Bursting the Wellness Bubble

There’s a weird vibe in Caracas of economic improvement, with shortages slowly disappearing. But if you go past the surface of the incipient upgrades, you’ll see we’re far from real, stable development.

Photo: Reuters, retrieved.

“Don’t you feel like everything’s sorta… better?”

This is the type of comments I’ve been hearing for a while now and, truth be told, there is a weird vibe (or better yet, an illusion) of economic improvement in Caracas.

Supermarket aisles are fully stocked and you can even choose between brands. Pharmacies have more medicines, purchase restrictions are slowly disappearing and there’s a bodegón around every corner, so you can buy a jar of Nutella every week. Heck, you can buy it everyday!

However, this is nothing more than a bubble of wellness.

According to NGO Centro de Documentación y Análisis para los Trabajadores (Cendas), as of December 2019, a family of four needed close to $550 to buy groceries and basic expenses for a month. 

Though some might say that $550 is not that much, you must remember how, at the time, the minimum wage came up to $3 a month. So at least two members of a family of four had to make 92 minimum wages monthly to cover basic expenses. 

Moreover, prices in dollars are skyrocketing and they’ve been doing so for a while now.

Truth be told, there is a weird vibe (or better yet, an illusion) of economic improvement in Caracas.

Remember, dollars don’t grow on trees. Caraqueños (and dare I say, all Venezuelans) can pay and charge for their services in hard currency without a second thought, but those dollars come from somewhere.

A survey by public opinion pollster Consultores 21 said, back in September 2019, that 7% of dollars reach Venezuela via remittances, and 3% come from personal savings. The rest of the greenbacks hail from, in a manner of speaking, a secondary market: 41% is pay for services or goods; 30% were bought in the so-called black market; 13% came from selling property or assets; and 3% from wages, salaries and bonuses collected. 

So, even though the source of dollars is limited, it’s rapidly distributed, guaranteeing an availability across all socio-economic strata. 

But are these dollars enough?

More greenbacks being distributed doesn’t mean more purchasing power, because the amount of dollars that pour into the economy and circulate can buy less and less. 

For example: in September 2018, I paid $5 a month for baby daycare and I’m currently paying $160. That’s a 3,200% increase. And while $5 a month is ridiculously cheap and it was only fair to raise the price, salaries haven’t increased in the same proportion. As of September 2018, childcare meant 1,25% of my husband’s income; it now represents 16%. 

Wellness isn’t about the availability of Nutella or the magnificent view of a fully stocked aisle; wellness comes down to quality of life over time. Not just pan ’pa hoy y hambre pa’ mañana.

Sorry for bursting your bubble.