Narco-state: drug cartels are the fifth largest employer in Mexico

A study published in Science magazine concluded that criminal gangs have experienced huge growth in the last decade. They currently have around 175,000 workers, although the figure could be higher.

A report in Science magazine revealed that drug cartels have become the fifth largest employer in Mexico. The study highlights the "growth" of criminal gangs, explaining that traffickers from 150 different groups have around 175,000 people working in various facets of their criminal activities:

Cartels collectively “employ” some 175,000 people in Mexico, making them the fifth largest employer in the country

The number of criminals constantly increasing

The author of the report, Rafael Prieto-Curiel, a former Mexico City police officer, said he used data from Mexican public agencies to obtain the results. It was based on the number of murders, disappearances and arrests of criminals that took place throughout the country during a ten-year span (2012-2022).

After reviewing the information, he used "mathematical model" to estimate that "cartel members accounted for 10% of these murder victims and 5% of incarcerations."

The model revealed that criminal organizations were losing almost 200 members per week due to murders and arrests. Therefore, he was able to calculate "how many members the cartels would have to recruit per week to replace their losses":

In total, about 37% of cartel members active over the past decade were either killed or incarcerated. But the total size of cartels grew by about 7000 people per year over the same period, meaning they must have recruited about 19,300 new members per year to make up their losses.

The model revealed that the 150 cartels that were analyzed went from having 115,000 active members to around 175,000 in just a decade.

Results similar to those of the DEA

The study also compared its estimates to those of another report prepared by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Both analyses estimated the number of criminals working for the two largest cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación. The study by Science estimated 46,000 hired members, and the DEA offered a similar projection of 44,800.

However, both reports state that neither of those figures necessarily represents the total number:

Actual operations might involve many more people: The model only accounts for those directly involved in work that puts them at risk of violence, and not members—such as bankers—who help move and launder cartels’ money.