Research done recently by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank reveals some surprising conclusions.
“The U.S-Mexico border region has a unique economy and socio-demographic profile that sets it apart from the rest of the country. Perched between two giant nations, the border bears witness to over $350 billion in cross-border trade and well over one hundred million border crossings every year, yet has remained one of the poorest regions in the U.S. At $30,904, per capita income on the U.S. side of the border is 85 percent of the U.S. average. Without San Diego, border income is much lower—$22,302—61 percent of the U.S. average. At the same time, the Mexican side of the border is one of the wealthiest regions in Mexico; income per capita in Mexican border states is about 1.5 times that of non-border states.”
I suppose this conclusion is a reasonable one; on the US side the border region is mostly remote countryside adjoining the poorer neighbor while the Mexican side is that country’s primary access point to the US.
The researchers then pose this interesting question:
The obvious economic question is what factors drive Mexican migration into one
of the poorest areas in the United States? In other words, why would Mexican migrants pass up more lucrative labor markets in the U.S. interior for a stint on the border?
The conclusion is that:
“access to fewer migrant networks and a strong geographic preference among
border migrants may ultimately underlie their willingness to settle for lower wages on the border rather than seeking higher wages by venturing into the U.S. interior….Border migrants might prefer border cities over interior destinations because they don’t have migrant networks in the U.S. interior, don’t speak English or have little U.S. work experience. They may be skilled in occupations which are disproportionately common on the border, such as service and sales occupations, or in skilled occupations where native (U.S.-born) labor is scarce in the border region and hence wages are relatively high, such as professionals—architects, engineers, technicians, vocational teachers and college professors. Moreover, because of the border’s high concentration of Border Patrol and other immigration and customs officials, the region likely attracts migrants who can cross the border legally, such as those who have temporary visas including tourist visas or border crossing cards.5″
The suggestion regarding professional workers goes against conventional wisdom; an example might be of an engineer from Mexico winning a bid on a construction project near the border on the US side in part because that engineer is far nearer to the project than any US firms.
If you take a look at Mexico population distribution, you’ll see that with the exception of the Tijuana area Mexico’s states along the US border are relatively thinly populated compared with the major urban areas in the south. Given the high income identified by the researchers, you would think that the border states would attract more internal migrants. Perhaps it takes time for word of the opportunities to spread and for migrants to prepare to make the move.