“I buy your dollar ugly, broken, stained and deteriorated,” proclaims Miguel Urrutia, an accounting student who resorts to buying and selling currency to survive.
“The thing is flag [difícil]You heard ”, he adds, next to several young people from Caracas in a noisy, vibrant, crowded square. “Nobody wants to study or work anymore because the only thing that gives real is this,” he says. Many businesses and people do not accept damaged dollar bills, but Miguel does business with them.
On a corner of Plaza Bonalde, in the popular neighborhood of Catia in Caracas, Venezuela, Urrutia shares the area with sellers of screws, cell phone cables and Chinese food, among other things.
This was always an area of street vendors, known in Venezuela as “peddlers.” They stopped in two or three pedestrian streets. But in recent years the popular market has overflowed into more streets, the plaza itself and other surrounding neighborhoods.
“People changed with the arrival of the dollar,” says Ana Cermeño, a 61-year-old seller of sack bags, also in Catia. “Before this they gave you in the bakery, but now people are selling everything, what they find and if they don’t find it, they make it up“.
After an economic crisis that reduced the economy by 80% between 2013 and 2021, the arrival of the dollar informally on the Venezuelan streets has been a shock to the logic of employment.
According to the National Survey of Living Conditions, from the Catholic University, between 2014 and 2021 formal employment fell by 4.4 million jobs, almost a third of the economically active population.
And alone in 2021, 1.3 million formal jobs were closed.
Barely 40% of employment today is formal, according to Encovi, but if other studies are taken into account, such as those that measure informality by the number of people registered in social security, formality is reduced to 20%, by far the lowest figure in Latin America.
Difficult not to look for a “tigrito”
The crisis of formality has not only had an impact on the street.
BBC Mundo interviewed an escort who repairs microwaves, an engineer who makes plumbing and a teacher who makes jams and pasta sauces, and another educator who works in a pizzeria. Many have up to a third activity; some work seven days a week; most are dedicated to making an extra dollar 12 hours a day.
Oscar, who asked not to reveal his name because his activity could be interpreted as illegal, is studying to be a chef and started an internet banking venture.
Today, however, he finds his income in video games: “If you do a survey, you see that most people manage to earn up to about US $ 50 a month, which is much more than the minimum wage or pension (between US $ 5 and US $ 10), but it is still not enough ”.
Oscar spends his days in Axie Infinity, a computer or cell phone video game that has the objective of creating characters with powers that are then marketed through NFT (or non-fungible token).
“When you see that the people here earn that US $ 50 in one or two hours of work, this becomes a lifeline or an aid,” he explains. Those dedicated to monetizing Axie Infinity typically earn about $ 800 per month on average.
According to SimilarWeb, an internet traffic meter, Venezuela is the second country after the Philippines with the most Axie Infinity users.
“There are several ways to monetize and the investment doesn’t have to be that big,” says Oscar. “The system has something of a cooperative, because other players are needed to win (…) My scholarship students (in Venezuela) are a dentist who plays while waiting for patients, and another who takes care of his mother and works in a supermarket and plays during his time free ”.
The decline of formal employment
The expression “to kill a tiger” in Venezuela is used to do work outside the specialty, but that allows survival. It emerged on the entertainment scene in the 1930s, when many musicians were not professionals.
Since then, and especially now, after one of the hardest economic crises in the history of America, Venezuelans talk about their “tigritos.”
“As working in the informal sector gives more money, many, especially in the public sector, have either resigned or simply do not go and dedicate themselves to other things“, Explains Demetrio Marotta, economist and business consultant. “The State collapsed and social security ceased to be a mechanism for having a stable life.”
Asdrúbal Oliveros, also a Venezuelan economist, adds: “Hyperinflation not only destroyed the currency, but most of the jobs and ended job stability; This precariousness makes people prioritize jobs that solve the day to others that in theory give them stability ”.
But also, he explains, “Dollarization occurred faster in the informal structure than in the formal one, where many companies continue to pay in bolivars ”.
That is why Yulimar Aldana, 26, decided to quit her job as a laboratory assistant and set up a table for the sale of basic products in the San Martín neighborhood of Caracas.
“It’s that I earn more selling rice, flour, oil here on the street than in the laboratory (…) But I also no longer have to spend the money for transportation or spend four hours a day getting there.”
The Venezuelan economic crisis has had a strong effect on public services, including transportation, which, with a shortage of spare parts and complications in the acquisition of gasoline, has lost the efficiency it once had.
“In the laboratory I had an annual bonus and discounts for medical consultations and in some shops,” says Aldana, “but I earn more doing this, which is not what I prepared for, but hey, let me be calm“.
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