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Cost of living data, El Salvador, 2001

May 1, 2001  |  Share

A further note on wages: Though it is not directly related to the Quality factory, we are attaching an interview with a typical Salvadoran garment worker, especially for the cost of living data it includes. From this you can see that the most minimal daily basic expenses for a maquila worker amount to $11.29 a day. We have not even mentioned other expenses, like clothing, health care, household goods like soup and toilet paper, let alone any small discretionary savings, yet this woman needs to earn $1.41 per hour just to survive. Quality workers do not earn anywhere near this $1.41 hour wage which is necessary for meeting basic expenses.

Making Children's Clothing for the U.S.
Eleven to twelve-hour shifts / Workers still left in abject poverty
Apple Tree El Salvador, SA de CV
San Marcos Free Trade Zone
Interview with a worker, April 2001 

Name of worker: 
[Omitted to protect her from being fired]

23 years

Family situation: 
husband, pregnant, two children

San Antonio Masahuat
Department La Paz
35 kilometers from San Marcos

Apple Tree (Tres Manzanas)
San Marcos Free Zone

How many live in your house? 
3 adults and 3 children, and another on the way
The children are 4, 2 and 6 months old
The youngest is my sister's child

What time do you get up? 
At 4:30 a.m.

What do you do when you get up? 
I wash, make breakfast for husband and the children and then I go to work.

What time do you leave for work? 
I leave at 5:30 in the morning to wait for the bus.  It's the Route 134.

How long does it take to get there? 
An hour and 15 minutes.  It's almost always late, because it makes lots of stops picking up people, almost all of them maquila workers like me.

How much does transportation cost?
Twelve colones [$1.37] round trip.  The buses are full and on the way back I have to stand even though I'm very tired.

What do you eat for breakfast and where do you eat? 
I eat at the stands outside the San Marcos free zone, at that girl, Elvira's at the side of the highway to Comalapa and it's clean.  The only thing that bothers you is the smoke from the buses that stop across from where I eat.  I eat refried beans, cheese, plantain, 3 rolls and a coffee.

They charge me c10 [$1.14]--but the lady gives me credit so I can pay her on payday.

For lunch, what do you eat and how much is it?
The food varies.  For example, I ask for chicken, rice, 3 tortillas and a drink and they charge me 12 colones [$1.37] and write it down in a notebook to pay her every two weeks on payday.  I eat in the same place I have breakfast.

What time do you leave the factory?
At 6, and sometimes at 7 at night.

How long does it take to get home?
It takes a little longer than in the morning, since the buses are really full.  It takes me an hour and a half, and the bus leave the terminal and waits a while to fill up and then leaves.

What do you do once you get home after leaving work?
I see how my family is and help prepare supper and wash the dishes afterward.  Sometimes, when I'm not too tired, I wash some clothes.  But I wash clothes on Sundays.

What does your family eat for supper?  
We get by on beans, rice, tortillas and a coffee for about c30 [$3.42] a day.

How often can you buy milk?
I only buy 2 liters of liquid milk on payday.  A liter costs c7.00 [$.80].  Daily, I give the children NIDO powdered milk which costs c98 [$11.19] a can and lasts 15 days.

Can you buy vitamins?  
No, because they are very expensive.

How often do you eat meat? 
We eat meat at home three times every two weeks.

How much do you pay in rent?
I pay c500 [$57.08] plus electricity and water.

How much to you pay for water? 
c60 [$6.85] a month.

How much do you pay for electricity?  
c120 [$13.70] a month.

How much does a cylinder of gas cost?
c38 [$4.34] and it lasts us a month.

Do you pay for school?
I pay c25 [$2.85] per child per month.  I pay so little because it is a public school.

What are your family food costs?
I calculate that they are about c800 [$91.32] every 15 days.

Can you go to the doctor and buy medicine?
No, because the doctor is very expensive.  Rather, we go to the public health unit and since I am insured, I go to Social Security.  (Note: Children over 6 years old are not protected  by the Social Security system that the parents pay into.  These children must go to private clinics or the so-called Health Units of the Ministry of Health, with classic problems of lack of medicines, lack of equipment, lack of doctors and long waits for attention.)

Do you leave your children in daycare?
There are no daycare centers where we live.  We pay an aunt to care for then, bathe them and feed them. I give her c300 [$34.25] a month.

How often do you buy clothing?
We buy clothing every six months for my husband and me and clothing for the children every 4 months.  Sometimes we buy used clothing that comes from the United States, when it's good and cheap.

How many people work in your house?
Three of us work.  My sister works in the free zone of Olocuilta in the HOONS factory, which is Korean.  My husband is a bricklayer and works in construction with my father.

Do you have savings?
No.  We don't even have a passbook.  The wage is very small.

Do you have debts?
Yes, because sometimes we borrow money for bus passage and when we borrow, they charge us 15 or 20 percent interest a month.  So if I take a loan of c100 [$11.42], I have to return c120 [$13.70].

How much do shoes cost?
For the children between c100 [$11.42] and c150 [$17.12].  Women's shoes c150 [$17.12] or 200 [$22.83].  Shoes for men are more expensive, c200 [$22.83] to c350 [$39.95].

Is the money you earn enough?
No, because the minimum wage is c588 [$67.12] per 15 days.  To more or less get by we have to work overtime.

Was your house damaged in the January and February earthquakes?
Yes.  The house was adobe.  Part of our house fell in.  We asked for aid from the municipality and they have given us sheets of corrugated metal sheets and some planks.

Did the factory or the owners of the labels help you?
Neither the factory, nor the owners of the labels helped us--not at all, not at all.


Wages of Poverty

No one can survive on $0.60 an hour, $4.80 a day.

Partial daily expenses of a worker at Apple Tree: 

 Round trip bus






 Supper (6 people)


 Rent (per day)








 School (for 2 children)


 Informal daycare





(Note:  In just one month, March 2001, the Apple Tree factory shipped a wholesale value of $1.6 million of boy's sportswear to:  

Fishman & Tobin, Inc.
625 Ridge Pike E-3
Conshohocken, PA 19428
(610) 828-8400

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