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What Would A Sharp Decline In Remittances Mean For Latin America

May 8, 2020
Originally published on May 8, 2020 7:12 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The job losses in the United States are having an immediate and devastating impact beyond our borders. Last year immigrants working in the U.S. sent an estimated $150 billion back to their home countries. Half went to Latin America and the Caribbean. Now that lifeline is being cut, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Silvia Garcia lives in New York, and every month, she sends her mom in Mexico $500.

SILVIA GARCIA: It's the only money that, you know, she's going to get.

KAHN: Her mother just retired, and her Mexican pension is too small to live off, let alone pay for her heart medication. Garcia is struggling to keep up that support. Her small jewelry store on Long Island was shut in the middle of March when New York state went on lockdown. Her savings are almost all gone, but she says she can't abandon her mom.

GARCIA: You know, it's not a question about it. You know, I need to send her money.

KAHN: Mexicans working in the U.S. sent more than $36 billion home last year, and like Garcia in the first three months of this year, they were still sending a lot. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tells expats to keep it coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We're expecting double, triple, more to come thanks to our countrymen, said Lopez Obrador this week. But that's very unlikely. The World Bank is predicting remittances will drop by 20% this year. Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue agrees.

MANUEL OROZCO: Migrants are not only the first ones to lose their job but will be the last ones to regain it.

KAHN: Migrants dominate the workforce in construction, child care and restaurant sectors that have been hit hardest and will take longer to recover. Orozco expects a steep drop in remittances for April and May. Antonio Tizapa doesn't have to wait for those official figures.

ANTONIO TIZAPA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: You can't send something that you don't have, he says. Tizapa is a plumber in New York City. Every payday, he sends money home to his wife and three kids in Guerrero, Mexico, but he hasn't had a full paycheck in months. He says his family can hold on about one month more. Mariela, a single mother in El Salvador, doesn't think she can last that long. Her mother, an office cleaner in Los Angeles, hasn't been able to send much money home lately.

MARIELA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We're eating as little as possible, she says.

MARIELA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: My mom always told us save, save, save, and I have. But my savings are nearly gone, she says. Mariela's mother Anabel is only working four hours a week now. Both women asked NPR to use only their first names since Anabel is undocumented.

MARIELA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: What mother wouldn't give her children her last bite of food, says Anabel. She sent Mariela her last $100 two weeks ago but now can't pay her own rent in LA.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.