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CGD Europe Sandwich Seminar with Michael Clemens on Effects of US Employment Opportunities on Violent Crime in Mexico

Michael Clemens
Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Matt Collin
Research Fellow, CGD Europe

Luigi Minale
University College London

The homicide rate in Mexico began to soar in 2008, tripling by 2011. Why did it happen? Prior research has established links between aggresive military action by the national government against drug cartels and the spike in violence.

In a special CGD Sandwich Seminar, Michael Clemens presented evidence for an alternative, economic explanation for part of the explosion in Mexican crime and violence. The United States economy entered recession in late 2007, low-skill unemployment in the US shot up, and net low-skill Mexican labor migration to the US collapsed. That is, the US recession caused a large, unpredicted reduction in the opportunity for productive earnings by potential migrants across Mexico, predominantly young men. A well-developed theoretical literature suggests that this could increase their incentive to supply labor to criminal cartels, small-time extortionists, and ‘self-defense’ groups in conflict with state security forces.

Along with his co-author Nabil Hashmi, Clemens isolated the spatially heterogeneous and plausibly exogenous component of those shocks in Mexico using a little-studied administrative dataset provided by the Mexican government. They found that a substantial portion of the rise in homicides was caused by reduced employment opportunities for Mexicans arising from reduced opportunities for migration to the United States.


The CGD Europe Sandwich Seminars brings some of the world's leading development scholars to discuss their new research and ideas. The presentations aim to meet an academic standard of quality and are at times technical, and retain a focus on a mixed audience of researchers and policymakers. A light lunch is provided.

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