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Is Mexico's economy really driving down illegal immigration to the US?

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According to a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US declined from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.6 million in 2009, the largest decrease in 30 years. One of the most common explanations for this phenomenon is that Mexico has witnessed the emergence of a middle class, lessening the economic incentive to cross the border. While it is true that a segment of the population has seen a growth in disposable income over the past five years, a July study by consulting firm De la Riva Group revealed that only 32 percent of the country is “middle class,” defined as making the equivalent of between 13,500 pesos ($1,000) and 98,499 pesos ($7,360) per month.

In contrast, the latest poverty statistics from Mexico’s government poverty monitor CONEVAL indicate that the number of people living below the poverty line in Mexico (2,114 pesos or $158 per month in urban areas, 1,329 pesos or $99 per month in the countryside) increased by 3.2 million between 2008 and 2010, and now stands at 52 million. This figure amounts to more than 46 percent of the country's 112 million inhabitants. This directly contradicts optimistic accounts in the US media which imply that increasing standards of living in Mexico are causing immigration to fall, such as recent articles in the Sacramento Bee and New York Times. While CONEVAL notes that some states (notably Puebla, Coahuila, and Morelos) have made inroads against poverty, it cannot by any means be said that Mexico is mostly middle class.

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