The Brain Drain in El Paso and How It Has Affected the City

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Community Informants
  • Methods
  • Findings and Expectations
  • Significance of Research

Over the last ten years, there has been a common trend of the citizens of El Paso leaving the city in search for work elsewhere. This decline in applicants for jobs has hurt the cities growth. It has been the cities job to figure out how to keep the youth of today here for tomorrow.


El Paso is a border city in Texas that has grown rapidly due to the opportunities it holds for its inhabitants and those in neighboring cities. The city brings opportunity to many people from different countries around the world to study at The University of Texas at El Paso. It was first opened on April 16, 1913 under the name Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy. It has provided a high quality secondary education for a small price for over one hundred years. The notable programs offered at the university include Engineering and Business. For a small, poor city, El Paso has thrived off of its university but there is a problem after graduates obtain their degrees. El Paso is truly fortunate to have this institution of higher education without having to leave home, but unfortunately this fortune has not stretched very far for its graduates. Most of the time students do have to travel elsewhere to find a job due to the lack of jobs in their field in El Paso or due to the higher pay from bigger cities. If El Paso is supplying an affordable education shouldn’t they be able to provide stable jobs for its citizens?

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Literature Review

The act of El Pasoans leaving the city is referred to as the “Brain Drain”. In layman's terms it means that all of our valued workers that live in El Paso are moving to bigger cities or out of the state in search of better job opportunities. According to the El Paso Times, “from 2013 to 2014”... it was recorded that “ 8,500 people left El Paso”( Anderson, 2015.) From 2010 to 2018, the cities population has gone from 800,000 to 840,758 people. Robert Moore states in his article that, “El Paso County has had an average annual population growth rate of 0.5% since the last census, compared to 0.6% nationally and 1.5% in Texas.” This is alarming to the city and its officials.

It is sad to know that El Paso is home to a top tier Engineering program and that there are not any opportunities for them. Betsy Keller, a county chief administrator says that,“We graduate some of the top aerospace engineer type students and the majority, if not 100% of them, leave El Paso…”( Baudisch, 2019) in an interview with El Paso’s K.F.O.X. News. El Paso is graduating many students. About “…21.9 percent of the population over 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26 percent for the state, according to United States census figures” ( Augilar 2013). The former President of the University of Texas at El Paso has even addressed that the collage is known for its Engineering program but that they never have their graduates stay in the region. Diana Natalicio stated that this situation “is [to her ]one of the most serious brain-drain situations” ( Aguilar, 2009). The question is how do we manage to satisfy the amount of jobs to match the output of students with degrees?

Community Informants

Since there are less job opportunities, millennials and the older half of generation z would rather leave home than stay at a job the does not pay enough or is not putting their degree to good use. It is impossible to hold their interests in El Paso by waiting for a job because they need to find a good source of income in order to pay off school debts and provide for themselves. It is a common thing for hispanic families to want to keep their families close and they try to persuade them to stay in the city they were brought up in due to how much they depend on each other in their family dynamic. Even if they wanted to stay due to having their families in the same city, a lower cost of living, the Mexican and El Pasoan culture and being able to give back to their community by showcasing what they have learned in other institutions, they cannot do that because as a community we are not adapting to their growth through creating jobs for them.

Young workers without college degrees or having only high school diplomas are attracted to the bigger cities where they can work in the oil or gas industries. They are reared to as blue collard workers. This is a perfect opportunity for them because of the amount of jobs are booming, they never have to worry about the security of their job or if they have enough to provide for themselves and their families. College students graduate with job opportunities waiting for them in another city where they know that they have stability.

According to the Las Cruces Sun News, after interviewing young college students, they found that the way to keep them rooted to their home town is to provide internships for students. Regardless if they are going to The University of Texas at El Paso or somewhere else in the United States, having internships will be a pull factor for these students to return home for the summer. Through the work of internships, students can create relationships within their community to secure that they can come back home to El Paso and have a job. It is not just for these students to go and seek internships but for business to be willing to mentor and provide experience to contribute to our growth as a city. This way they can showcase what they have learned and help better our community.


The main method that I used for this study is textual analysis. My process was to evaluate past articles from local El Paso news articles who have observed the trends in population over the past ten years. Then I applied anthropological concepts to understand the push and pull factors that are affecting El Paso, Texas. I compared and contrasted the common reasons as to why young adults do leave and to pinpoint the main reasons that seem to be common across all groups despite having and for of educational degree or if they were seeking any type of work. For the younger people, the night life has become a big influence in keeping young people here by creating an El Pasoan culture.

Findings and Expectations

Within my research I found that the city of El Paso is aware of the decreasing population that is happening. They are trying to raise pay or create incentives for people who are working here and for continuing to stay working in El Paso. When high school students apply for college, the problem is trying to keep the to come home, not the fact that they are leaving to go to college elsewhere. In particular, college students need the boost of internships. In drawing in younger people, the city is putting money back in to the infrastructure to improve life here and the quality of their work spaces. 

Although it is a wonderful idea to rebuild the infrastructure in the community, it will take years for multiple projects to be complete and to fully see if it has any effect with the growth of the community. This, in hope, will be a pull factor in keeping native El Pasoans and bring in migrants from other big cities as well. There is a great discrepancy in wages from El Paso to the rest of Texas. El Paso still has a long way to go in competing with other city wages. “The average weekly wage in El Paso in September 2018, the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $735. That compares to an average weekly wage of $1,064 in Texas and $1,055 in the United States. That means the average weekly wage in El Paso was 69% of the state average and 70% of the national average.” ( Moore, 2019)

Significance of Research

The purpose of this paper is to create awareness as to how the El Paso community is losing its population. From this study the community can come together to get creative and think of ways to create opportunities so our youth won’t want to or have to leave to seek out positions elsewhere. By being able to create job opportunities, it contributes to the growth of El Paso. We will be able to compete with bigger cities in Texas such as Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. It will contribute to helping out our neighboring cities such as Ciudad Juarez and Las Cruces by being able to provide them with services and opportunities instead of having to go elsewhere just as we do. By providing necessary services and drawing in specialized occupations, El Pasoans will not have to leave their city to seek services such as medical care and risk falling through the poverty line or not being able to continue on with receiving necessary medical services. On all sides for the permanent residents, young adults and visitors to El Paso, everyone benefits. El Paso is the perfect place to live for its long time residents due to the cost of living and that their families still reside here. We should make it possible for them to stay in El Paso and contribute to building a stronger community.

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