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Mexico: Labor Force
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Labor Force


Mexico's workforce was estimated in the 1990 census at some 24.3 million. Workers constituted a relatively small share of the total population, in part because of the population's relative youth (38 percent were below the minimum working age of fourteen). Slightly more than half of the working-age population (those aged fifteen to sixty-four) had actually entered the formal labor market. In the early 1990s, an estimated 500,000 people entered the labor force each year, expanding the total workforce by some 3 percent annually.

In 1988 employers and the self-employed constituted 29 percent of the labor force, employees 56 percent, and unpaid family workers 15 percent. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing employed some 24 percent of the economically active population; manufacturing, mining, quarrying, and public utilities employed 22 percent; trade, hotels, and restaurants employed 19 percent; construction employed 5 percent; finance and real estate employed 5 percent; transportation and communications employed 4 percent; and 21 percent were engaged in other service work. About half of all manufacturing workers were employed in small and medium-size enterprises.

Partly because of high unemployment in the formal labor sector, the number of informal-sector workers swelled during the 1980s and early 1990s. These informal workers included some 900,000 street vendors in forty-five cities, with annual sales of about US$13 billion. The growth of the informal sector both reduced the state's tax revenue receipts and encouraged corruption among local officials.

Historically, real wages in Mexico have been subject to tacit understandings among government officials, the private sector, and labor union chiefs. During the 1940s and 1950s, these sectors forged an understanding whereby Central Bank and Treasury Ministry technocrats would control macroeconomic policy, business groups would refrain from open political opposition while gaining political access through officially recognized private-sector associations, and labor leaders would restrict real wage demands in exchange for additional patronage for distribution to workers. After falling sharply during the 1940s, real wages began to recover in the mid-1950s and continued to rise until the late 1970s, when the government responded to growing fiscal pressures by shifting resources away from the peasantry and the public sector. The government used its control of employment opportunities and the labor union movement to hold down wages throughout the 1980s in an effort to reduce inflation.

The average real wage in Mexico remained low in 1995, both in historical and international terms noted that the average worker's purchasing power in 1993 was only 65 percent of its 1982 level.

Unemployment rose sharply during the six months following the December 1994 new peso devaluation, then receded somewhat between August and December 1995. Open unemployment (according to the government's narrow definition) dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent during this period, although it subsequently increased to an average of 6 percent during the first quarter of 1996.

Although the government increased the minimum wage by 21 percent during 1995, the cost of living rose by more than 50 percent as a result of the currency collapse. In September 1995, the minimum wage was sufficient to cover only 35 percent of workers' basic necessities, compared to 94 percent in December 1987. The government's anti-inflation APRE program called for the minimum wage to increase in line with projected inflation of 21 percent. The government also pledged to boost employment through fiscal incentives to encourage private investment and tax credits for companies that increased their workforce above the average level for the first three quarters of 1995. It also planned to expand public training programs for workers and to maintain its temporary public works programs (such as rural road conservation, which was expected to employ 140,000 people, as well as other temporary work programs that would employ 700,000).

Partially to increase Mexico's domestic savings, the government proposed legislation in November 1995 to reform the country's pension system by allowing the creation of individual accounts managed by private financial institutions rather than by the government's Mexican Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social -- IMSS). Until 1992 the IMSS had been solely responsible for managing the pension system.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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