Mexican labor in California's economy : from rapid growth to likely stability

by Georges Vernez

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Over the past twenty years, California's history has been marked by a continuous, growing flow of Mexican immigrant laborers. As more and more of them have chosen to remain in California indefinitely, their relative importance in the state's and southern California's economy has increased. Further, they have become the cause of additional growth through family reunification (itself encouraged by U.S. immigration policy), the expansion of immigration communities and networks that reduce the cost of migration to successive waves of migrants, and a fertility rate exceeding that of native women and most other immigrant women. As a result, California is characterized, more than any other state in the Union, by a large, permanent, self-perpetuating Mexican labor presence. Today, at least one of four new entrants into the California labor force is estimated to be Mexican-born, and nearly one in four workers is of Mexican origin. This relatively large participation of Mexican labor in California's economy is a fairly recent phenomenon. However, it already raises some policy challenges for the state that are likely to intensify with the expected continuation of Mexican labor immigration. The purpose of this study is to review Mexican labor's importance to California's labor market, how its volume and characteristics have changed, and the implications of those changes.

Originally published in: The California-Mexico Connection, Abraham F. Lowenthal and Katrina Burgess, eds.,. Stanford University Press, 1993, pp. 147-163.

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