Social Security vs. Seguro Social

When I first arrived in Wisconsin, I learned that people needed a Social Security Number to work, and they made a big deal out of it. I didn’t really understand how I was to be part of a social security program without having a job in the first place. I thought if someone was willing to hire me, they could just change my visa status from visitor to worker and then we would all dance around in contentment. That’s not exactly what the other Mexicans were doing anyway and now I understand a little better.

The main point of the SSN is to track individuals for taxation purposes.  It has become the ultimate ID number and it is issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) residents. It’s needed to get a driver’s license, credit, enroll in college, open a bank account, etc. What basically gives it the social security connotation is that it ensures a pension for retired and disabled people.

Although the social security concept may be the same in most places, providing welfare and social insurance programs, the way that it is delivered can be really different in other countries.

In Mexico, social security is not only for retirement, but almost a synonym of healthcare. Public healthcare is provided as guaranteed in our Constitution to all Mexican citizens. Everyone is eligible for subsidized healthcare regardless of their work status through different facilities operating under the Secretaría de Salud (Secretariat of Health).

However, employed citizens and their dependents are also eligible to use the programs administered and operated by the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (Mexican Social Security Institute). The IMSS program is a tripartite system funded equally by the employee, the private employer and the federal government. Besides the medical benefits, it also provides financial and social services for the workers. Clinics and hospitals are the best known face of the Institute, but there are also recreational and training centers, daycare facilities, funeral homes, stores and even resorts.

Employees of the public sector are serviced by the Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE (Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers), which attends to the health and social care needs of government employees.

Each state’s government also provides health services independently of those services provided by the federal government programs.

A lot of people complain about the public health and social care services in Mexico, and though a list of the good and the bad could very well fit in here, I can’t be neutral. My family has been benefited by IMSS in many different ways: first of all, they have employed my mother for 30 years or so and that, besides a paycheck, has given us good times, friends, learning experiences and growth. Because of them I got my first job. They have also welcomed us in the middle of the night when we felt sick, they have been generous either with an aspirin or with chemotherapy, and in happier times they have been the destination for some of the best family vacations and childhood memories I have.