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M. Ray Perryman: U.S.-Mexico: Long border, complex issues

🕐 4 min read

While rich in economic diversity, the vast border region between the United States and Mexico shares many complex and inextricable linkages.

Geographic proximity and centuries of interaction have brought a unique social, familial, cultural and economic melding that transcends the two countries. In particular, since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the mid-1990s, the level of economic interaction has increased markedly.

We recently conducted an in-depth study of the border region (more on that in future columns). One fact that is abundantly clear is that future quality of life and prosperity in the U.S.-Mexico border region (and, in fact, throughout both nations) depends on proactive efforts and working together to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities. Here are some facts about the region.

The U.S.-Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles in length and includes 10 states: the U.S. states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and the Mexico states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas.

If the area were a single country, it would be among the five largest economies in the world. Nearly 97 million people live in the region, almost 76 million of them in the U.S. and more than 21 million in Mexico.

The Mexican population tends to be younger, with a median age of 27 (compared to 38 in the U.S.). A higher proportion of the Mexican population has only completed high school/compulsory education, while the U.S. has a larger population that has started or completed post-secondary education.

There is a wide disparity between the average monthly household income and expenditures in the U.S. compared to Mexico.

Although average monthly income in the U.S. is much higher, the cost of living in Mexico is lower (though a substantial gap remains). The access to technology also varies widely, with far more people in the U.S. having access to computers and the Internet than in Mexico.

Both the U.S. and Mexico are approaching or at full employment. Unemployment in the U.S. has been trending in the range of 4 percent, with an even lower rate of less than 3.5 percent in Mexico. Both nations’ unemployment follows the general trend of peaking in 2009 following the financial crisis and has now recovered to pre-crisis levels.

The U.S. has a higher overall labor participation rate. The disparity is due to Mexico’s significantly lower participation rate among women (about 43 percent compared to more than 57 percent in the U.S.).

Mexico has a notably higher participation rate among men, largely reflecting the fact that Mexico’s population is younger and therefore a greater proportion of the population is of working age. Employment in Mexico tends to be concentrated in manufacturing industries, particularly in the border states.

There are 48 border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico, organized administratively into 26 ports of entry (POE).

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2016, 5.8 million trucks crossed the border into the U.S., 2.1 million of them at Laredo, Texas. More than 10,400 trains entered the U.S., containing 508,300 loaded rail containers, 487,100 empty rail containers and nearly 14,500 passengers.

About 88 percent of train crossings into the U.S. occurred along the Texas-Mexico border, primarily through Laredo and Eagle Pass.

There were also approximately 181,300 buses and 75.6 million personal vehicles that entered the U.S. from Mexico in 2016, for a total of 143 million passengers. Nearly 42.2 million pedestrians also crossed the border into the U.S. The busiest crossings were the San Ysidro-Tijuana and the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, with 7.4 million and 7.0 million pedestrians in 2016, respectively.

The large numbers of vehicles, trucks, trains, and pedestrians crossing the border each year are a clear sign of the strong ties between the U.S. and Mexico. In addition, the two nations are among each other’s top trading partners.

Many issues affecting one country also affect the other, such as security concerns, infrastructure and border crossing efficiency.

At the same time, the differences between the two present opportunities to work together to improve conditions for all through increased integration and enhanced cooperation.

This symbiotic relationship is often not well understood, especially in areas distant from the border, but it is an integral part of the economies of both the United States and Mexico.

M. Ray Perryman, Ph.D. is president and chief executive officer of The Perryman Group ( He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.

Ray Perryman
Dr. Ray Perryman is President and CEO of The Perryman Group, an economic research and analysis firm based in Waco, Texas. His firm has served the needs of more than 2,500 clients, including two-thirds of the Global 25, over half of the Fortune 100, the 12 largest technology firms in the world, 10 US Cabinet Departments, the 9 largest firms in the US, the 6 largest energy companies operating in the US, and the 5 largest US banking institutions.

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