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Economy, Labor

Institutional Revolutionary Party, service sector jobs, control inflation, number of Mexicans, underemployment

Due to explosive population growth, Mexico’s labor force expanded rapidly in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The number of Mexicans annually joining the nation’s labor force (anyone over the age of 12) generally exceeded 1,000,000. By 2000 the labor force had grown to 40.4 million people. Of these workers, 67 percent were male and 33 percent were female.

Official estimates of urban unemployment averaged between 6 and 7 percent in 1996, but most analysts believe that true rates of unemployment are much higher, and that underemployment in Mexico is significant. This situation has increased illegal immigration to the United States.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the structure of the Mexican workforce underwent major changes. Manufacturing and other industries—sectors of the economy that have traditionally provided stable jobs that pay good wages—saw little growth and created few new jobs. At the same time, the number of low-paying, service sector jobs increased. At the 1990 census, services employed 53 percent of all of Mexico’s labor force. Industry (including construction, manufacturing, mining, and power) employed 25 percent of the labor force. Agriculture (including forestry and fishing) employed about 21 percent.

Less than 20 percent of Mexico’s labor force belongs to a union, the majority of which are controlled by the government. Rather than being aggressive advocates for workers, Mexican unions have typically played a crucial role in supporting the government-dominated Institutional Revolutionary Party. In doing so, the unions have often agreed to government economic pacts to control inflation, prices, and wage increases. Mexican unions are noted for their levels of corruption and subordination to government influence. The major unions are the Mexican Federation of Labor and the National Farmers Confederation.

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