Mexico's Calderon launches job program in bid to fight poverty, stem immigration

President Felipe Calderon on Monday launched a national program aimed at creating jobs for young Mexicans and curbing the flow of millions who migrate to the United States in search of work.

The so-called National First Job Program will give cash incentives to companies for hiring first-time job holders. Calderon, who took office in December, campaigned on promises to be the 'Jobs President' and vows to boost employment opportunities in Mexico.

A conservative who narrowly won election last July, Calderon is under pressure from a strong leftist opposition to alleviate poverty affecting half the country's citizens. While he has criticized U.S. immigration policies such as a proposed border fence, he also says Mexico must stem the tide of immigration by increasing opportunities at home.

"Employment is the biggest door to get out of poverty. It is the only path to substantially raise a family's quality of life," Calderon said as he signed a decree for the program in the presidential palace. "To move Mexico forward, we have to create more and better jobs."

The government will also pay into social security for first-time job holders for one year. Calderon said some US$300 million (Ђ230 million) has been set aside for the program and that it will help millions of women who have never worked and struggle to support their families.

"Work is the only thing that guarantees women true liberty," he said.

About 1 million young Mexicans enter the work force every year, and the economy struggles to produce enough jobs for them. The government estimates that 400,000 Mexicans leave their homeland each year in search of work, the vast majority crossing illegally into the United States.

Many other young people work as street vendors or at other jobs in the nation's huge informal economy, neither paying taxes nor receiving health or pension benefits.

Former President Vicente Fox, who stepped down in December, had promised to generate 700,000 jobs annually. But the economy grew sluggishly during his administration and he hit the target only once in his six-year term.

Edgar Camargo, head of economic research for the Bank of America in Mexico, said he is optimistic Calderon will have more success, reports AP.

"Calderon's first month and a half in office have sent a positive signal that he is focusing on concrete policies and not getting into fights with the opposition," Camargo said.

Fox had most of his major reform proposals blocked or thrown out by an opposition-dominated Congress. Calderon has so far been successful at dealing with legislators from the party of bitter political rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which voted for his 2007 budget last month with little confrontation.

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