Saturday, April 08, 2006

Latino Migration: A Tale of Two Industries?

by Edward Hugh

Well Latinos are in the news again this week. There are estimated to be some 11 million undocumented Latino migrants currently living and working in the United States, and what to do to resolve this situation is clearly a major headache for the current republican administration. But beyond this, the huge and extended flow of migrant workers into the US is changing the demographic face of the country. So first-off let's take a look at some reality-check factoids:

Now according to Rogelio Saenz at the Popoulation Reference Bureau:

"Significant changes have taken place over the last decade in the racial and ethnic composition of births in the United States. Latinos (also known as Hispanics) are now accounting for an increasing share of U.S. births, while major racial and ethnic groups account for a decreasing share. These trends mean that, by 2030, one in every five U.S. residents will be Latino...."

(So here is point number one, there are more and more Latinos, and they are changing the racial and ethnic composition of the United States).

"Although the significant rise of Latino births has taken place across the country, the most dramatic increases have occurred in new destination states for Latinos. While these states (primarily in the Midwest and South) have historically had relatively few Latinos, their growing numbers of jobs in agriculture, construction, and meat processing are now attracting Latinos, especially Mexicans."

So then come points two and three, the destination distribution of the new population is now in the process of changing (with more and more migrants moving to non-traditional destinations) and there is a large concentration of (male??) Latino migrants in two principal industries: construction and meat processing.

"These dynamics meant that the number of births to Hispanic women in the United States increased by 39 percent between 1993 and 2003, compared to an overall increase of only 2 percent among all births in the country during the same period. Indeed, the share of births in the United States to Latinas increased noticeably between 1993 and 2003, from 16 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, the share of white births declined from 62 percent in 1993 to 57 percent in 2003, and that of African American births dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent."

So this is point four, Latino births in 2003 accounted for 22% of total US births. (In fact vital statistics for 2003 indicate that of all births for that year nearly one quarter of the total were to women born outside the United States).

Now returning to the employment distribution of Latinos, Emilio Parrado and William Kandel in a new paper - New Hispanic Migrant Destinations: A Tale of Two Industries) - inform us that:

Since 1990, Hispanics have grown dramatically in both rural and urban non-traditional receiving regions, especially in the Southeastern United States.1 Between 1990 and 2000 the Hispanic proportion in metropolitan areas of the Southeast grew from 11 to 14 percent while declining from 61 to 58 percent in the Southwest (Kandel and Parrado, 2005). In the cities of Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham, for instance, the Hispanic population grew by an extraordinary 362 and 569 percent, respectively, compared to 27 and 30 percent for Los Angeles and San Antonio......

Rural areas exhibit an even more pronounced trend. Between 1990 and 2000 Hispanic growth in rural areas (67 percent) was higher than in metropolitan areas (57 percent). Again, the change has been particularly acute in the Southeast. Census 2000 data indicate that during the 1990s the percent Hispanic in the nonmetropolitan Southeast increased from 11 to 19 percent while decreasing from 66 to 53 percent in the Southwest. To cite three not atypical examples, the entire populations of Franklin County, Alabama; Gordon County, Georgia; and Le Sueur County, Minnesota increased by 12.3, 25.8, and 9.4 percent, respectively, between 1990 and 2000. For Hispanics, the corresponding figures were 2,193, 1,534, and 711 percent.

Now as the authors indicate a variety of explanations have been proposed for this significant diversification of Hispanic migrant destinations. One theory has been policy oriented and argues that such diversification was the unintended consequence of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized the status of an earlier generation of some 3 million undocumented migrants, whilst at the same time increasing the level of border crossing enforcement in a way which may have caused Mexico-U.S. migration flows to fan out beyoned the previously limited range of well-traversed crossing points on the northwestern border towards numerous, more neglected, southeastern portions of the border.

Ironically, as Massey and his colleagues suggest, this 'tightening of security' policy may have had the unintended consequence of turning more temporary migrants into permanent ones by making it more costly and arduous for them to come and go.

However another possible explanation for the diversification could be found in the dynamics of the US labour market itself. As Parrado and Kandel argue such movements may be best understood in connection with industry and labor demand changes in receiving areas which attract the migrants. As they point out, in developed societies, labor markets tend to bifurcate into a capital intensive primary employment sector offering long-term, secure jobs with higher wages and potential for economic mobility, and a labor intensive secondary sector that provides little long-term opportunity, little employment security, or little meaningful economic mobility. (This is the so-called dual labour market theory, originally advanced by Michael Piore in the late 1970s). The employment instability, seasonality, occupational immobility, and overall poor job quality of the secondary sector implies that firms needing to expand their labour forces face considerable obstacles to satisfy labour demand with domestic labour supply (because native born workers are often reluctant to take the kind of jobs offered), hence employers often have recourse to immigrants (regular or irregular).

As the authors say:

"Immigrants solve the quandary of flexible low-wage employment recruitment because their transnational status permits them to profit economically through the arbitrage of destination country wages to home country standards of living, and their social frame of reference in home countries ameliorates their unstable condition and low social status in destination countries."

"This perspective implies that in order to understand the diversification of Hispanic migrant urban and rural destinations closer attention must be directed to processes of employment growth, relocation, and overall transformation of industries in the secondary sector since it is the generation of jobs especially tailored to migrant populations that drives migration flows.

So immigrants are a near-perfect labour market solution, and this tells us why they come. But what about where? Well, Parrado and Kandel argue that there are two distinct processes at work inside the US which are relevant here. The first is an internal movement of relatively well educated native born Americans towards what William Frey has called the “New Sunbelt” (eg Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona). These new populations need housing, and this fuels a construction industry boom, which of course thrives on migrant workers.

The second factor is industrial restructuring, especially in the meat processing industry (beef, pork, and poultry products). This restructuring has had two consequences: the increasing location of production facilities to rural areas, mainly in the Midwest and Southeast and a decline in the relative attractiveness of meat-processing jobs. (As someone who readily recognises his limited knowledge of the internal structure of the US economy, I can't help thinking at this point: why are there so many people involved in the meat processing industry? Is a significant part of this production destined for export? Do the meat producers benefit from subsidies? Are migrants being attracted only to re-export what they produce, possibly even to the very countries in which they originate).

Again as the authors conclude, to the extent that rural areas attract and get involved in activities like meat processing they can expect growing Hispanic populations or, put another way, economic processes and policies which fuel the growth of manufacturing employment in rural areas are more than likely destined to likely to change the ethnic composition of these same areas, and of course, in so doing, change the future face of the United States.


Frey, W. H. 2002. “Metropolitan magnets for international and domestic migrants.” The Brookings Institution. Washington, DC.

William H. Frey, “Diversity Spreads Out: Metropolitan Shifts in Hispanic, Asian and Black Populations Since 2000” Washington DC: Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program. (March, 2006)

A collection of William Frey articles can be found here.

Piore, M. J. 1979. Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Anonymous said...

I would expand these remarks from meat processing to agricultural processing in general. My grandparents operated a dairy farm outside Ft. Morgan, CO, a small city 80 mi. NE of Denver. From my dad's childhood accounts, it seems to have had a fairly robust economy based on agricultural processing at one time, but when I visited there in my own childhood, it seemed to be facing the trouble of many small cities, as local industries moved to larger urban areas, where labor was more plentiful.

In the last decade or so, though, it seems that many of the industries that moved to Denver have moved back. The dairy is running again; the sugarbeet processing plant, the beef-kill plant, and the grain elevator have expanded.

It does makes sense to process primary agricultural production closer to the source. Perhaps what has changed in the past couple decades is the overcoming of informational barriers: new immigrants go to large urban centers because they know in general that work is there; industry does the same because it knows in general that labor is there. Both concentrate in the city because doing so lowers search costs.

But if immigrant communities have become efficient in communicating among each other where employment opportunities lie, then this concern maybe isn't so great anymore. If the plant can be sited in a smaller city, and those who find out that it is hiring spread efficiently spread the word to cousins, nephews, in-laws ... then perhaps industry can be sited more according to the factors of production and less according to labor's search costs.

Edward Hugh said...

"But if immigrant communities have become efficient in communicating among each other where employment opportunities lie"

Yes. Very good point. One things immediately of the mobile phone here, and the role it has in making global labour markets more efficient, and national frontiers more permeable.

Incidentally, what do you make of Frey's point that all the rumpus is really being caused by the fact that so many Latinos arriving in non traditional areas is getting up some people's noses?

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, what do you make of Frey's point that all the rumpus is really being caused by the fact that so many Latinos arriving in non traditional areas is getting up some people's noses?

I think it is a real factor, especially among older, long-time residents of towns and smaller cities who see the face of their community dramatically changed in a decade. The rapidity and non-ignorability of these changes has brought out the racist streak in people who ordinarily would know it's impolite to show it.