A new World Bank report states there is a correlation between homicide rates and the number of unemployed male youths during the apex of Mexico's drug war, a telling reminder that improving public security requires more than just criminal justice reform.
The recently released report (pdf) examines the risks facing Latin America's "ninis," a term used to describe youth who are neither in school nor active in the work force. Using data from Mexico's national employment surveys, the study concludes that there is no correlation between the amount of ninis and homicide rates from 1995-2013.
But there is a positive and significant correlation, the study finds, between the rate of ninis and the number of murders between 2008 and 2013, when violence related to Mexico's drug war reached its peak. (See graph below) The correlation grows stronger when only Mexican border states are considered, the focal point for cartel violence in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
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InSight Crime Analysis
When discussing how to improve public security in Mexico -- and, indeed, the rest of Latin America -- the conversation tends to center on a few key topics, such as police reform and combating criminal groups. The World Bank study cautions against taking such a myopic approach to addressing patterns of violence.
"The report only reinforces what we already know, which is that violence is not a problem of law enforcement, it is a problem of opportunity," Viridiana Rios, a research fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, told InSight Crime.
The lack of opportunities driving violence can include, but is not necessarily limited to, a shortage of jobs. According to Rios, Mexico actually has a lower unemployment rate than the United States, Canada, and Spain. But the scholar suggests that the job opportunities for Mexico's poor do not carry the promise of economic mobility that ambitious young people seek. As a result, she says, assertive young people who find themselves at the lower end of the economic spectrum are more likely to turn to drug trafficking, where potential earnings are nearly limitless.
"When you look at the profile of drug traffickers... they are ambitious young people that wouldn't take [just] any job," Rios said. "You need to offer them jobs that allow people to move up the social hierarchy. And that is what we are missing."
While it is the responsibility of the criminal justice system to provide public security, it is not the only government sector that plays a role. Carrying out educational reforms, for instance, so that more youths from Mexico's working class are well-positioned upon entering the work force would not only cause Mexico's nini population to drop, it could lead to less violence and crime.