NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 13, 2005

A new study from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that most Mexican immigrants left jobs in Mexico to come to the United States.

The researchers surveyed Mexicans seeking identity documents at Mexican consulates in New York, Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., where recent arrivals have gravitated toward construction, hotel and restaurant jobs, and in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif., where they have been more likely to work in agriculture and manufacturing. They found that:

  • Unlike the stereotype of jobless Mexicans heading north, most of the immigrants had been employed in Mexico.
  • The most recent to arrive were more likely to have worked in construction or commerce, rather than agriculture and only 5 percent were unemployed in Mexico.
  • Though the jobs they landed were often unstable and their median earnings were only $300 a week, that was enough to keep drawing newcomers because wages in the United States far exceeded those in Mexico.

These results varied considerably by region and by industry:

  • Those who settled in Atlanta and Dallas were the best off, with 56 percent in each city receiving a weekly wage higher than the $300-a-week median.
  • The worst off were in Fresno, where more than half of the survey respondents worked in agriculture and 60 percent reported earning less than $300 a week.
  • Regardless of their location, legal status or length of stay, 38 percent reported an unemployment spell lasting a month or more in the previous year.

This evidence underlines the lack of incentives for employers to turn to a guest worker program like the one proposed by President Bush: Their needs are met cheaply by illegal workers -- without paperwork or long-term commitments.

Source: Nina Bernstein, "Most Mexican Immigrants in New Study Gave Up Jobs to Take Their Chances in the U.S.," The New York Times, December 7, 2005. Based on: Rakesh Kochhar, "Survey of Mexican Migrants Part III," Pew Hispanic Center, December 6, 2005.

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