Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Flow of dollars home to Latin America dwindles

BRANDON — Friday afternoon used to be one of the busiest times of the week for Andrea Samudio.

When construction jobs were plentiful, migrant workers with fat paychecks would fill the lobby of her money transfer business in Brandon, eager to send their earnings home to family in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

"Some people sent money before every week. Now they only send money once a month," said Samudio at Dolex Dollar Express.

Friday afternoon, Samudio sat behind the counter and glass partition playing with her toddler, an empty lobby before her.

The souring American economy has hit workers hard everywhere, but now it's reaching across the border. The depth of the downturn is evident at money transfer companies like Dolex, which report a steep fall in remittances.

A few years ago, some families sent between $600 and $1,000 a week, Samudio said. Now they only send about $100 a week and a lucky few send $1,000 a month, she said. Mexican workers had made up the majority of her clientele, but now their share has dropped to about 20 to 30 percent, she said.

Spectacular growth in recent years had turned remittances from workers living in the United States into Mexico's second-biggest source of foreign currency, surging more than 15 percent in 2006 to a record $23-billion. Last year the flow of dollars shrank for the first time in years, dropping $600-million.

When work was plentiful, Oscar Martinez never had to wait long by the side of the road to get picked up as a day laborer. But today's economic hard times mean that Martinez, a 32-year-old Nicaraguan, barely makes enough to scrape by, let alone send money home to his family.

"There's no work anymore," he said, sitting on a plastic milk crate outside a lumber store in Hialeah, South Florida's most Hispanic city and home to many working-class immigrants.

Martinez used to send $340 a month to his mother and his wife back home. He still does the best he can to help them look after his 8-year-old daughter. But last month he managed only $200.

Around Tampa Bay, Mexican construction workers who used to take home between $700 and $1,000 a week are now earning half that working at fast-food stores and cutting lawns. Reduced incomes mean less money to send to relatives in Mexico, and less to spend locally.

In Clearwater, a magnet for Mexican immigrants from Hidalgo state since the mid 1980s, local businesses are feeling the impact.

"Right now it's just about trying to stay in business," said Leonardo Rodriguez, 41, president of the Mexican Council of Tampa Bay and the owner of two Los Amigos food markets in Dunedin and Largo. "In our community, business is down 35 to 40 percent."

Clearwater's Mexican-born auditor, Robin Gomez, hears numerous stories of less money being sent home. This month he visited Pachuca, Mexico, where his uncle owns a pharmacy that also handles distribution of money transfers. "He was telling me how he used to get thousands of remittances. Now it's down about 50 percent."

Immigrant workers are also feeling the effect of the weakening dollar. For Mexicans this means that the $7.3-billion sent home in the first four months of the year lost about $366-million in value for Mexican recipients.

The falling remittances are only partly due to lost wages, experts say. A hostile domestic immigration debate and tougher law enforcement activity are discouraging would-be migrant workers. More immigrants are switching to Europe to look for jobs.

"The declining economic conditions have removed incentives for migration to the U.S. and directed migration flows to other countries, Spain for example," said Kai Schmitz, a vice president at Microfinance International Corp., a money transfer processing company in Washington.

Finding work is so hard that many immigrants are giving up on the U.S. job market and going home. Buses leave south and central Florida every day for the border. "We used to sell five or six tickets a month. Now they are sold out," said Rodriguez, who is from a small village near the city of Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo.

"Sometimes you have to wait three or four days to find a seat."

Oscar Martinez says he is saving up to go home. Back in Nicaragua he worked in the rice fields, earning about $100 a month. While the pay wasn't so good, hard times in Miami have made him homesick. "Even though I wasn't earning a lot, I felt better there," he said.

The ripple effect is beginning to be felt in Mexico, too, especially in those communities most dependent on remittances. "It's causing economic chaos back there," Rodriguez said. "Ixmiquilpan is a city in paralysis."

David Adams can be reached at [email protected]

By the numbers

6.5 percent

The unemployment rate for U.S. Hispanics in the first quarter of 2008, well above the 4.7 percent rate for all non-Hispanics, according to the Pew Hispanic Center

7.5 percent

Unemployment for Hispanic immigrants in first quarter

21,000 Construction jobs lost in South Florida after hitting a 2006 peak of 165,000

Flow of dollars home to Latin America dwindles 07/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 12:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Casimar Naiboa pleads for help to capture the killer of his son, Anthony Naiboa. Naiboa, 20, was shot and killed near 15th Street N. and E. Frierson Avenue after getting off the wrong bus in Seminole Heights. A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  2. PolitiFact Florida: Rubio has a point about the child tax credit

    State Roundup

    The Trump administration and Senate and House leaders have revealed a framework for tax legislation that proposes tax cuts for business, a reduction in tax brackets, and the elimination of several tax breaks.

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, and other members of the committee arrive on Capitol Hill in August. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  3. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  4. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  5. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.