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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Servants To Engineers: Mexican Immigration And Labor Markets In The San Francisco Bay Area


This working paper examines the relationship between the transformation of labor markets and the role of immigrant workers in a regional context. It analyzes the participation of Mexican immigrants in the labor markets of the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1980s, using data from the Bureau of the Census (Public Use Microdata Samples). In order to analyze employment trends, the paper compares the performance of three groups: native-born, Asian immigrants, and Mexican immigrants.

The study focuses on tow Bay Area counties that experienced a very high influx of immigrants during the 1980s: Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties. Santa Clara County is home to the Silicon Valley, the most successful high-technology region in the world. The labor demands of Silicon Valley have attracted both highly educated and unskilled immigrants. Contra Costa County, with a history of using Mexican-origin agricultural labor, has recently seen the rapid growth of such sectors as finance, insurance, and real estate that have produced new labor demands.

The results that the constant demand for immigrant labor, the formation of “daughter communities” , and the implementation of immigration policies have led to the consolidation of the Bay Area as an ensemble of fragmented ethnic communities that have secured access to distinct niches in the labor market. Asian immigrants, who seem to follow the employment patterns of native-born workers, find jobs in the most dynamic sectors of the regional economy, while most Mexican immigrants obtain jobs in more traditional sectors such as construction, agriculture, and personal services. Some highly educated Mexican immigrants have also responded to the labor demands created by the development of the high technology sector in Silicon Valley.

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