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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mexican Labor in Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Ong, Paul M.;
  • Morales, Rebecca
  • et al.

This paper examines the status of Mexican labor in Los Angeles since 1970, the period of extraordinary growth. Historically, mexican workers were an integral but subordinate part of the Southwest in general (Briggs, Fogel and Schmidt 1977; Barrera 1987) and Los Angeles in particular (Romo 1983), but it is only recently that they have reemerged as a major component of the region's labor force. Approximately one in four workers in Los Angeles is now Mexican. This study analyzes both the immigrant workers, whose economic plight has been highly publicized, and the American-born Mexicans, the Chicanos, who had until recently constituted the majority of the Mexican labor force. Although the typical Mexican worker is at the bottom of the economy, the group as a whole is diverse in terms of economic status, as the data presented later in this paper will show.

This paper examines the issue of inequality, along with providing a general background on the Mexican labor force, and is divided into four parts. Part I examines the growth in the supply of Mexican labor. The major factor has been immigration; nonetheless, Chicano workers remain a significant proportion of the labor force. Part II examines the characteristics of Mexican labor, which on the average is younger and less educated than Anglo labor, and possess lower English language skills. Part III examines their economic position in Los Angeles' economy. On the whole, Mexicans can be characterized as low-wage workers situated in less stable parts of the economy. Part IV examines the determinants of labor market status. The low economic status of both immigrants and Chicanos is the product of inadequate education and on-the-job training, wage discrimination, and racial barriers that hinder the acquisition of human capital. For immigrants and new entrants into the economy this is further compounded by a changing structure of employment opportunities.

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