Mexico's Economic Policy and Migration

Dealing with the Causes

Mexican migration to the United States is primarily a result of inadequate employment opportunities in Mexico. Other motives for emigration exist, namely kinship relations in destination locations, but the primary motive remains economic improvement. Lack of opportunity for meaningful employment largely stems from stagnant growth in Mexico. Mexican growth has averaged 2.5 percent for the previous three decades, far below the 5 to 6 percent growth rate needed to create employment for new entrants into the labor force. As a result, many entrepreneurial Mexicans seek to improve their lot in the United States, many of whom send part of their earnings to relatives in Mexico.

The United States has an important stake in this topic as it admits more temporary workers from Mexico than any other country. At the same time, Mexicans represent more than half of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States. Despite this reality, immigration reform remains a polarizing issue in U.S. politics. While U.S. employers and Mexican authorities assert that low-skill Mexican workers stimulate U.S. economic growth and have little or no adverse effects on U.S. wages, opponents, such as organized labor, argue that the large-scale use of low-skilled Mexican labor reduces the compensation of low-skilled U.S. laborers. Both sides fail to capture the connection between the remaining challenge of economic reform in Mexico and its resulting emigration.

Recognizing the urgent need for policymakers in the United States and Mexico to have a deeper understanding of this reality, the CSIS Simon Chair in Political Economy held a conference in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 2011, to analyze Mexican migration to the United States and what both countries could do to reduce the flow of unauthorized migrants and increase economic growth in Mexico. Attention was given to the current state of migration from Mexico to the United States in light of high rates of U.S. unemployment; the connection between stagnant growth in Mexico and its high rate of emigration; economic reform and employment creation in Mexico; and what role the United States can play in this process. The presentations and discussions of that conference are summarized in this report.

Michael Graybeal