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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Greener Grass on the Other Side of the Border

This surprised me at first, but that's because the headline "Illegal Immigrants Not Drawn by Jobs" is a bit misleading. While it's true that many were employed prior to leaving, it appears improving wages and working conditions are strong factors in the decision to cross the border illegally. So in that sense, they are "drawn by jobs":

Study: Illegal Immigrants Not Drawn by Jobs, by Darryl Fears, Washington Post: A majority of Mexican nationals who crossed into the United States illegally in the past two years left behind paying jobs that, in some cases, are similar to the agriculture, construction and manufacturing work they find north of the border, according to a study of Mexican immigrants released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center.  The study seemed to explode widely held beliefs that Mexicans risk deadly trips across the Rio Grande and through broiling Arizona and New Mexico deserts solely to find work. But the Pew Center's director, Roberto Suro, said he could not say that definitively. "There's one very clear finding and that's that unemployment per se is not a very large factor in determining whether people migrate or not," Suro said. "This is not a flow of people without jobs. Unemployment is not pushing people out. . . . " More often, he said, the decision to migrate involve a variety of reasons, such "improvement of earnings" in Mexico, even though immigrants earn very low wages in the United States.

The study's author, Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research for the center, said that, based on estimates, undocumented Mexican immigrants earn about twice as much in construction, manufacturing and hospitality jobs as they did working south of the border.  Other factors that contributed to Mexican migration include rejoining families and improved working conditions, Suro and Kochhar said. ...

After arriving in the United States, 82 percent of the illegal immigrants lived with relatives. ... Unemployment is a fact of life in the transition from Mexico. A high percentage, 38, said they were unemployed for at least a month in the previous year. Women in particular, 48 percent, had trouble finding work, and 40 percent of people without a high-school education were jobless for a significant period. Forty-five percent eventually found jobs by "talking with people" in the United States... Others visited job sites, talked to people in Mexico or consulted want ads in U.S. newspapers. About half of illegal immigrants entered the same industries that employ most workers in Mexico. An additional 17 percent took jobs in the hospitality industry, according to the study.

Update: This just showed up in an email. It is from the NBER Digest:

The Mexican Workforce in the United States: The population of Mexican-born persons residing in the United States has increased at an unprecedented rate in recent decades. This increase can be attributed to both legal and illegal immigration. ... In The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the United States (NBER Working Paper No. 11281), ... George Borjas and Lawrence Katz use data from 1900 through 2000 to document the evolution of the Mexican-born workforce in the U.S. labor market. While it is well known that there has been a rapid rise in Mexican immigration to the United States in recent years, they find that the share of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. workforce declined steadily after the 1920s before beginning to rise again in the 1960s. It was not until the 1970s that the relative number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. workforce was back to the 1920s level.

Analyzing the economic performance of these immigrants..., the authors find that Mexican immigrants have much less education than either native-born workers or non-Mexican immigrants. These differences in ... "human capital" account for nearly three-quarters of the very large wage disadvantage suffered by Mexican immigrants in recent decades. While the earnings of non-Mexican immigrants converge to approximate those of their native-born counterparts as the immigrants accumulate work experience in the U.S. labor market, the authors find that this wage convergence has been weaker on average for Mexican immigrants than for other immigrant groups. ...

The authors also find that the large Mexican influx in recent decades has contributed to the widening of the U.S. wage structure by adversely affecting the earnings of less-educated native workers and improving the earnings of college graduates. These wage effects have, in turn, lowered the prices of non-traded goods and services that are low-skill labor intensive. There is little evidence that the influx of Mexican-born workers into the United States is slowing down ..., and there is also little evidence that the skill composition of the Mexican immigrants is changing from what it has been in the past. The continued migration of Mexican workers into the United States, and the inevitable rapid growth of the group of native-born workers of Mexican ancestry, suggest that the economic consequences of this migration influx are only beginning to be felt. --Les Picker

    Posted by on Wednesday, December 7, 2005 at 09:01 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (10)

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