I was meeting with some economic-development-types from El Paso and Juárez earlier today and asked if they saw signs of “green shoots.” Alan Russell, president of the TECMA Group, which helps U.S. companies set up across the border in Mexico, said he saw “glimmers of light.” Orders are on the rise in many factories.
Now, he did say that it was hard to tell if that uptick was because demand was actually picking up or if inventories were simply so depleted companies didn’t have any other choice but to place orders. He said he was optimistic that it was the former. I asked why, if he couldn’t tell the reason for the uptick, he was optimistic that it was the sign of a rebounding economy. He said, “We’ve got to be optimistic.”
That, I think, is an important anecdote to hold onto. Yes, even Ben Bernanke is seeing good news—including in the realm of companies building back up their inventories. But let us not forget that there’s a chance the economy will perk up only to falter again. We can’t will this thing into being. Not to be all Debbie Downer, but a lot of those Mexican factories are still running on a 4-day week, and there are some 15,000 empty houses in Juarez, normally home to maquiladora workers who come in from other parts of the country (a typical number of empty houses would be about 4,000).
In non-economic news, Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz also talked about the city’s recruitment of new police officers as part of its epic struggle to conquer violent drug cartels. TIME’s Tim Padgett has been insightfully writing about that story; I am more than a little out of my element. Still, I wanted to share what I found to be a fascinating detail—Juárez has actually been having an easier time recruiting college-educated folks to be police officers than it has citizens who didn’t even graduate high school. Considering the dozens of officers who were killed in the violence before the federal government sent in troops, you might not think people trained to be lawyers and sociologists would be lining up for the job. But they are.
Since November, when Ferriz said he wanted to hire people with college degrees, put them into units dealing with things like intelligence and family violence, and pay them 35% more, nearly 600 applications have come in. That’s twice as much interest as the city received when it tried to drum up applications by lowering standards, saying that a middle-school diploma would do.
Why? Well, as any person familiar with Juárez might be able to easily tell you, there simply aren’t enough jobs for the graduates of the industrial city’s four universities. A bilingual secretary can easily make as much money as a lawyer, Ferriz said. Of course, Mexican parents want to keep sending their kids to college, so they do—which leaves us with hundreds of people who majored in law and sociology and psychology and tourism administration now wanting to be police officers. Which is probably a green shoot in terms of trying to create a more-professional, less-corrupt police force.