Dramatic drop in money sent to relatives abroad

December 1, 2009 7:39:47 PM PST
There is a new international crisis emerging as a result of the U.S. recession. Families here can no longer send as much money as they once did to relatives in Mexico, and that drop has been dramatic.

Jose Luis Hernandez has 40 customers who send money on a regular basis to relatives in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Oaxaca and Sinaloa. Some have cut the amount in half, while others have stopped altogether.

"Some customers, they send like twice a month, $200, $300," said Hernandez. "So this means five people, five members of a family, they can survive very good in Mexico on that."

Those cutbacks add up. In October, remittances to Mexico dropped a record 36 percent compared to a year ago; that's almost $1 billion. Another record was set in May, down 20 percent.

The downward spiral started at the start of the year as recession gripped the U.S. economy.

Francisco Duarte had to stop supporting his brother's and his sister's families last month because he isn't working.

"Times are really tough, I work in construction, I'm a carpenter, and there's just no work," said Duarte through a translator.

The problem isn't just impacting Mexico. Duarte's family is in Nicaragua.

The World Bank estimates the amount of money going to Mexican relatives will drop from $25 billion last year to $21 billion this year.

Globally, support from U.S. relatives will drop from $328 billion to $304 billion.

Foreign remittances have been big business for banks. At an East San Jose branch of Wells Fargo, it's estimated a third of all customers are sending money home to relatives.

"It could be once a week, but more likely it's every other week. A lot of families really depend on the monies from folks working here to be able to send them down there," said Wells Fargo Bank Vice President Alex Torres.

But now, times are tough.


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