Who is an immigrant? Earl Shorris, in Life and Times of Mexico, says that the greatest pressure to move, socially, are the poorest Mexicans–mostly the Indians. Now, movement can mean transition from rural life to urban life, a fact that is reflected in the population growth of Mexico City. However, social mobility does not translate into upward mobility: the Europeanized elites maintain control of power over natives, and the urbanized natives remain in poverty. Equally risky, but more advantageous, is migrating to the United States.

Vincenzo Caponi (Institute for the Study of Labor) looked at the relationship between education and migration to US from Mexico (link to abstract: Heterogeneous Human Capital and Migration: Who Migrates from Mexico to the US?). What he finds is interesting: the least and the most educated leave; those with some education remain. By some education, he means primary and some secondary education. But that group seems to be able to make the most out of the education it receives. The least educated find that they have no opportunities, while the most educated find that opportunities are not commensurate with their education.

Caponi reads these trends as a U-curve: those with some educated are most stable, those outside that group have the most incentive to leave. Improvements in education don’t seem to affect the trend.

The U-CurveSo, what to make of recent job growth in Mexico: will it keep people home? Doubtful. Most of the 950,000 jobs created are in sectors that require some education: construction and manufacturing. It may be true that “one job ends … and there’s another,” but the fact that job creation is not reaching the poorest Mexicans probably means nothing will change. Nor should it be expected. Investment will go to those parts of the economy that create the most exports, thus demand more skilled, industrial labor. The poorest Mexicans will remain where they are … or come to the US.