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Skills of the Unskilled

Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants

Jacqueline Hagan (Author), Ruben Hernandez-Leon (Author), Jean-Luc Demonsant (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780520283732
March 2015
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
Most labor and migration studies classify migrants with limited formal education or credentials as “unskilled.” Despite the value of migrants' work experiences and the substantial technical and interpersonal skills developed throughout their lives, the labor-market contributions of these migrants are often overlooked and their mobility pathways poorly understood. Skills of the Unskilled reports the findings of a five-year study that draws on research including interviews with 320 Mexican migrants and return migrants in North Carolina and Guanajuato, Mexico. The authors uncover these migrants’ lifelong human capital and identify mobility pathways associated with the acquisition and transfer of skills across the migratory circuit, including reskilling, occupational mobility, job jumping, and entrepreneurship.

1. Who Are the “Unskilled,” Really?
2. Learning Skills in Communities of Origin
3. Mobilizing Skills and Migrating
4. Transferring Skills, Reskilling, and Laboring in the United States
5. Returning Home and Reintegrating into the Local Labor Market
6. Conclusion

Methodological Appendix
Jacqueline Maria Hagan is Robert G. Parr Distinguished Term Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include international migration, labor markets, gender, religion, and human rights. She is author of Deciding to Be Legal and Migration Miracle.

Rubén Hernández-León is Associate Professor of Sociology at University of California, Los Angeles, and Director of the UCLA Center for Mexican Studies. He is the author of Metropolitan Migrants: The Migration of Urban Mexicans to the United States (UC Press) and the coeditor of New Destinations: Mexican Immigration in the United States.

Jean-Luc Demonsant is Assistant Professor of Economics at the Toulouse School of Economics. He employs a mixed-methods approach to the study of migration, focusing on migration and remittances, and social status and schooling choices among migrant families.
"Through facts and figures, the book encourages readers to look beyond the classification of workers as “skilled” or “unskilled.” . . . Recommended."—B. P. Corrie, CHOICE connect
“America’s economy increasingly depends on immigrant workers, but the study of immigration and work has somehow surprisingly disappeared from the scholarly eye. Here, to fill that gap, is Skills of the ‘Unskilled,’ a beautifully written, convincingly argued book that explains how and why the skills developed and brought by immigrants possessing little schooling nonetheless provide the backbone on which so many industries and occupations rest. An essential volume to be appreciated by scholars and students of immigration alike.”—Roger Waldinger, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

“This vividly written book changes the way we think about ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled,’ the meaning of human capital, and the importance of things we do not normally measure for understanding immigrants, their mobility, and their impacts at home and abroad. It is a must-read for anyone interested in migration policy or research.”—J. Edward Taylor, University of California, Davis

“Creatively conceived, rigorously executed, and critical for anyone interested in the dynamics of labor migration. Will replace the fallacy of the doomed ‘unskilled’ labor migrant with a nuanced view of the complex ways in which job skills are acquired through lifelong learning and deployed on both sides of the US–Mexico migrant circuit.”—Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Paradise Transplanted: Migration and the Making of California Gardens

Skills of the ‘Unskilled’ challenges stale thinking about migrants and their work by showing how they not only survive but also develop the skills to thrive.”—David FitzGerald, coauthor of Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas

Skills of the ‘Unskilled’ is novel, revealing, and transformative. This meticulous, skillful, and profoundly social examination of the intersection of jobs, skills, and knowledge will transform the way we see ‘immigrant jobs’ and how we talk about ‘unskilled’ labor. It will recast our images of immigrant workers in multiple consequential ways.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Enduring Violence: Ladina Women’s Lives in Guatemala

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