Employment/Regional Development in the U.S. and Mexico

The U.S. and Mexican economies, already closely linked, have since the implementation of NAFTA become even more integrated through increased trade, investment flows, and migration. Nonetheless, the economies remain distinct in numerous ways. Mexico, still much poorer than the United States, retains a much larger traditional sector (especially in agriculture) and informal sector. The United States has a much more diversified economy, but also higher unemployment. This project compares the two countries, particularly from the perspective of employment, and attempts to create intellectual linkages among scholars and practitioners in the two countries.

One major research component is entitled “Retail workers on both sides of the border,” carried out with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation and a Fulbright Research Fellowship (for Chris Tilly) to pursue comparative research of how retail restructuring has affected the workforce in both countries. Chris Tilly and José Luis Álvarez Galván are leading this research.

The other significant research component is “Political and economic restructuring and community development in Mexico,” carried out with a Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowship (for Marie Kennedy) to conduct a class in participatory planning that was also a community development project in Tlaxcala, Mexico. Marie Kennedy and Chris Tilly are leading this research.

Tilly and Kennedy spent the first half of 2004 in Mexico, conducting research and giving talks at five Mexican universities; they returned to Mexico for the first half of 2007 and gave talks at 3 Mexican universities plus a Mexico City conference (and each returned to speak at additional Mexico City conferences in fall 2007).  We also have established student exchange programs with three Mexican universities, the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco (UAM-X) in Mexico City, the Colegio de Tlaxcala in the city of Tlaxcala, and the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA) in Puebla, and have begun carrying out exchanges. We have brought speakers on Mexico from the UDLA, the UAM-X, and the Colegio de Tlaxcala.


Project Leader

Professor Chris Tilly, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA


Research Personnel

Professor Chris Tilly, Ph.D. in Economics and Urban Studies and Planning, MIT. Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA. Tilly has done extensive research on service work and community development in the United States, and has also frequently written about economic issues in Latin America.

Marie Kennedy, M.Arch., Harvard University. Professor Emerita, Visiting Professor at the Department of Urban Planning, UCLA. Kennedy has written about and led projects involving participatory planning and integration of higher education with community development. She has led projects in this field in the United States, Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua, and has conducted workshops on these topics in Brazil and Indonesia.

José Luis Álvarez Galván, BA, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Master of Arts, Economic and Social Development of Regions, University of Massachusetts Lowell, currently a doctoral student at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Alvarez has conducted research on economic trends in Mexico, in particular on the growth of call centers there, and on high technology industries in the United States.

Iraida Elena Blanco, BA, University of Massachusetts, Master of Arts in Regional Economic and Social Development, University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Blanco has studied the employment trajectories of retail workers in Mexico. In addition to the Mexico-US project, Blanco has researched the relationship between development strategies and elevated suicide rates in the Andean region of Venezuela.

Amanda Enrico, BA, Michigan State University. Enrico has studied small business, the informal sector, and family survival strategies in Mexico, and is currently following up on Blanco’s study of employment trajectories of Mexican retail workers.

Patricia Jimenez de Greiff, BA, Universidad de las Americas. Greiff has conducted research on the maquiladora (export assembly) industry in Puebla Mexico and is currently studying the changing fortunes of small food producers in the same region.



“Como afecta a la fuerza laboral la re-estructuración de la industria comercial al por menor: Una comparación entre México y los EUA.” (“How retail industry restructuring affects the workforce: A U.S.-Mexico comparison-in-process”). Proceedings of the 4th Congress of the Asociación Latinoamericana de la Sociología del Trabajo, 2003.

“‘We’ve been fighting for the land since time immemorial’: Indigenous land struggles in Michoacan, Mexico.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy, Progressive Planning, Summer 2004.

“Missives from Mexico.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. Humanity and Society. Vol. 28, No. 2, 2004.

“Wal-Mart in Mexico: The limits of growth.” Chris Tilly. In Nelson Lichtenstein, ed, Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century Capitalism. New Press, 2005.

“From here to autonomy: Mexico’s Zapatistas combine local administration and national politics.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. Progressive Planning, Spring 2006.

“Wal-Mart goes south: Sizing up the chain’s Mexican success story.” Chris Tilly. In Brunn, ed., Wal-Mart World, Routledge 2006.

“Trabajo marginal: Trabajadores en el comercio y los servicios en México.” (Marginal Work: Workers in trade and services in Mexico.”) José Luis Álvarez and Chris Tilly. In Enrique de la Garza and Carlos Salas, editors, La Nueva, Situación del Trabajo en Mexico 2000-2003, (Mexico City: Instituto de Estudio del Trabajo, 2006).

“The Mexican retail sector in the age of globalization: Lousy jobs, invisible unions.” Chris Tilly and José Luis Álvarez Galván. International Labor and Working Class History, fall 2006.

“Participación extranjera en al autoservicio mexicano: El efecto Wal-Mart.” (“Foreign investment in the Mexican retail sector: The Wal-Mart effect”.) José Luis Alvarez and Chris Tilly. Comercio Exterior (Mexico City), November 2006.

“Wal-Mart en México: Efectos y retos para los autoservicios nacionales.” (“Wal-Mart in Mexico: Effects and challenges for Mexican retailers.”) José Luis Alvarez, Economia Informa, 2007.

“Supply, demand, and tortillas: Rising staple prices rile the population in Mexico.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. Dollars and Sense, March-April 2007.

“Construyendo un futuro major para San Miguel Analco.” Reporte Final del Equipo de Planificación Participativa. (Building a better future for San Miguel Analco: Final report of the participatory planning team.) Mercedes Arce, Marie Kennedy, and Chris Tilly (professors), Amelia García, Tomás González, Claudia Hernández, Eugenia Huerta, Maribel Meza, José de la Luz Sánchez, Rosalío Valseca, and Arturo Vásquez (students). El Colegio de Tlaxcala. Tlaxcala, Mexico. June 2007.

“Laws and injustice: Fighting for human rights in Mexico.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. New Politics, Summer 2007.

“Up against the charros and the changarros: Mexico’s independent unions confront a wave of lousy jobs.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. Dollars and Sense, September-October 2007.

“Challenging Coke’s thirst for water: The Apizaco story.” Marie Kennedy and Chris Tilly. Progressive Planning, Fall 2007.

“Dreams and borders: Looking at migration from the Mexican side.” Chris Tilly and Marie Kennedy. Dollars and Sense, November-December 2007.


Statistical Sources

The most important Mexican source is INEGI, the National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Informatics. The most important U.S. source is the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.