All along the border, more people are competing for limited supplies of drinking water and electricity, generating more solid refuse and sewage, and being exposed to ever higher levels of toxic wastes. NAFTA has left no mechanism to generate money for basic environmental services or public infrastructure: Workers’ wages are too low to provide much tax income, sufficient levies on the factories are not allowed, and tariffs on exports were banned by NAFTA.
The perverse structure of the system ensures that none of the benefits of industrial growth reach those who create it. According to a 2006 issue of the Wall Street Journal, since the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the once isolated agricultural Rio Grande Valley has experienced explosive growth and has become a retail Mecca for corporate sales to rich Mexicans and Mexican businesses.
The Wal-Mart in McAllen has the highest grossing sales in the country and La Plaza Mall has the highest grossing annual sales per square foot in the country ($650). In addition, there are over one million maquiladora (assembly plants) workers across the border in Mexico. The managers and technical assistants needed to support the maquiladoras are imported to the region and live on the US side of the border. The rapid growth has resulted in increasing the cost of living for the poor as the price of real estate has escalated.
The Texas State Comptroller in his 1998 report titled “Border Future” examined this situation and concluded that the border has experienced growth without prosperity. NAFTA activities have generated new jobs resulting in the reduction of the unemployment rate, but most jobs are created by the retail industry and are part-time minimum wage jobs. Although unemployment rates have continued to decline with the creation of retail jobs, the most recent Texas Workforce Commission reports an unemployment rate of 16. 4% in Hidalgo County, as compared to 6. 1% for the state of Texas.