NAFTA’s implementation has coincided with a 30% drop in manufacturing employment, from 17.7 million jobs at the end of 1993 to 12.3 million at the end of 2016.
We lost the work and we opened the borders to cheap entry level labor !
Today Mexico sells close to $60 billion more to the U.S. than it buys from its northern neighbor. NAFTA is an enormous and enormously complicated deal; looking at economic growth can lead to one conclusion, while looking at the balance of trade leads to another.
The partially union-funded Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2014 that 851,700 net jobs had been displaced by the U.S.‘s trade deficit with Mexico, which amounted to 0.6% of the U.S. labor force at the end of 2013. In a 2015 report, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said that NAFTA “did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics.” On the other hand, it allowed that “in some sectors, trade-related effects could have been more significant, especially in those industries that were more exposed to the removal of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, such as the textile, apparel, automotive, and agriculture industries.”
Anecdotal evidence supports the idea that these jobs went to Mexico. Wages in Mexico are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. All major American car makers now have factories south of the border, and prior to Trump’s twitter campaign against offshoring, a few were openly planning to ship more jobs abroad. Yet while the job losses are tough to deny, they may be less severe than in a hypothetical NAFTA-less world.
Part of the justification for NAFTA was that it would reduce illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. The number of Mexican immigrants – of any legal status – living in the U.S. nearly doubled from 1980 to 1990, when it reached an unprecedented 4.3 million. Boosters argued that uniting the U.S. and Mexican markets would lead to gradual convergence in wages and living standards, reducing Mexicans’ motive to cross the Rio Grande. Mexico’s president at the time, Carlos Salinas de Gortiari, said the country would “export goods, not people.”
Instead the number of Mexican immigrants more than doubled – again – from 1990 to 2000, when it approached 9.2 million. According to Pew, the flow has reversed, at least temporarily: 140,000 more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered it from 2009 to 2014, likely due to the effects of the financial crisis. One reason NAFTA did not cause the expected reduction in immigration was the peso crisis of 1994-1995, which sent the Mexican economy into recession. Another is that reducing Mexican corn tariffs did not prompt Mexican corn farmers to plant other, more lucrative crops; it prompted them to give up farming. A third is that the Mexican government did not follow through with promised infrastructure investments, which largely confined the pact’s effects on manufacturing to the north of the country.