Since starting work at the Esperanza copper mine in northern Chile two years ago, Erick Moreno has tripled his salary and is preparing to buy his first home. The pay, he says, is so good that he’d never take a job elsewhere.
“I am going to die in this industry, I don’t see myself anywhere else,” Moreno said by phone from Antofagasta, a city on the edge of the mineral-rich Atacama desert. “When you start working in a mine, everything changes and in a very little period of time.”
While Moreno, 27, completed his engineering course at Antofagasta University, he says many fellow students dropped out to start work at the mines without graduating. Most of them already own their homes and drive sports cars, while many older miners have five or more houses, some far from the mines that litter the northern desert, he said.
Spending by high-earning miners is spreading through the economy, fueling a consumer boom and driving unemployment to its lowest since 1973. The nation, squeezed between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, has become the wealthiest in Latin America, according to the International Monetary Fund, with gross domestic product per capita rising to about $16,300 this year from $4,780 ten years ago. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim last month congratulated the country on earning “high-income” status.