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Migrants and the Absorption of Social Costs of Maquiladora Growth -- Kathryn Kopinak

Migrants and the Absorption of Social Costs of Maquiladora Growth

Kathryn Kopinak


King's College

University of Western Ontario

Maquiladoras are one of the few cases in which export led development, an economic strategy now employed throughout the world, has been subject to systematic, scientific research. A survey of the last decade's literature shows that during that period of greatest growth, the focus has become one sided, investigating mainly those concerns of importance to business. A blind spot has thereby been created blocking the investigation of the social costs of industrial growth.

This presentation brings together findings on recent research dealing with how migrants have disproportionately absorbed the social costs of industrial growth at Mexico's northern border. In the early period of maquiladora growth (1966-1976), industries preferred to hire people native to the communities where they operated, considering them more stable. However, with the boom in plants and the deepening economic crisis within Mexico, companies soon absorbed most local labor and migrants displaced by unemployment from interior parts of Mexico were arriving in large numbers searching for jobs. Research on labor trajectories of low wage workers in cities such as Tijuana during the nineties indicates that migrants were likely to use maquila jobs as a refuge, something that they could rely on for employment, whereas native workers were able to avoid maquila work and get better jobs.

However, given that maquila jobs tend to be lower paid than those in other sectors, their settlement was impeded by the difficulty of finding affordable housing, transportation to work, etc. and their living conditions remained marginal. Since the contraction of industries in 2000, they have once again become over-represented among the unemployed. Since there is no unemployment insurance in Mexico, the cost of constructing a maquiladora labor force is absorbed largely by its constituents.