Ethnic solidarity doesn't give Mexican workers advantages in U.S. labor market


Family and friends provide best leads to higher-paying jobs

HOUSTON -- (Aug. 16, 2004) Contrary to conventional wisdom, Mexican workers in the United States do not receive labor market advantages from their ethnic solidarity, according to a Rice University sociologist. But familial and friendship obligations do help Mexican workers find better jobs.

Michael Aguilera, postdoctoral fellow in Rice University's sociology department, compared Mexican workers employed at Mexican firms to those employed at white firms to assess whether Mexican immigrants working at Mexican firms earn higher wages, are more likely to be employed within the informal economy and work longer hours than those working at white firms. "My study shatters the ethnic solidarity hypothesis," said Aguilera, who presented his findings Aug. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

"Ethnic solidarity within co-ethnic firms has been portrayed as benefiting immigrant workers because it enables immigrants to find employment in the United States despite their skill levels, limited English ability, and discrimination," Aguilera said. The belief was that people from particular ethnic groups will help each other out by sharing leads to good jobs. "Some studies find that immigrants working within ethnic businesses earn higher wages than those working within non-ethnic businesses, so I wanted to test whether ethnic solidarity improves Mexican migrants' labor markets." Aguilera analyzed 1,000 cases from the Mexican Migration Project's data for Mexican migrants from 81 communities in Mexico. The data, collected from 1982 to 2000, provides detailed labor market information regarding migrants interviewed in Mexico and the United States about their experiences while living in the U.S.

Comparing friends, relatives and "paisanos" (countrymen) as sources of job leads, Aguilera found that the worst networks were the paisanos. "They provided access to extremely low-paying jobs and longer hours, whereas networks of friends and relatives proved to be the best way to find good jobs," Aguilera said.

An average Mexican worker employed by a Latino boss earned about $7.05 an hour, but if that same worker used a relative network, the wage was $8.34. If that same worker used a paisano network, the pay was only $2.75.

"People who are relatives or friends have a much stronger connection to migrants than does someone who is only from the same country and really doesn't know the migrant,"Aguilera said. Relatives and friends will vouch for each other and attest to a person's skills and work ethic, helping their acquaintances get better jobs. "Migrants who used paisanos as references were likely to end up in low-skilled, low-wage jobs with not much authority," he said.

"The evidence suggests that Mexican migrants can rely on obligation and trust of their familial and friendship networks to provide them with jobs within ethnic businesses paying comparable or higher wages than white firms, even though these jobs are often located in the informal economy," Aguilera said. "Obligation works to provide higher-paying jobs to those using familial and friendship networks, while at the same time providing employers with a reliable labor supply."

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