US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Great Recession hits immigrant workers harder

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The Migration Policy Center just released a study on the impact of the “great recession” on immigrant workers in comparison to native workers. Since the early 90s they had fared better. But in 2007 that trend began to reverse – even before the downturn in the economy. Now the immigrant is more likely to be jobless.

That’s not hard to figure, since the immigrant is usually attracted to low-paying unskilled jobs in construction, manufacturing, and service – industries taking a beating in these hard times. Already we had evidence from declines in remittances to Mexico and in apprehension at the border. (Hard times also seem to be creating a reverse flow of remittances. See below.) MPC suggests that their study reveals to what extent migratory pattern follow the business cycle. That may already have been intuitive knowledge, but it’s good to have hard evidence.

Remittances now flowing from Mexico to the U.S.

Remittances have always been part of immigrant life in the U.S. I remember as a boy during World War II taking my mother’s five dollars to a travel agent to purchase tea for my relatives in Ireland. As a parish priest in Kingston, Jamaica, I knew our school would empty, were it not for the trickle of money that came from New York, London, or Toronto.

At Holy Cross in Back-of-the-Yard neighborhood of Chicago, parishioners have told me of sending a few bucks back to Michoacan to purchase a pig or lay a cement floor in the ancestral hacienda. It had become so important to Mexico and Jamaica that it is the second most  important earner of foreign currency.

Recently, the New York Times reported on a new phenomenon – reverse remittances to the U.S. Many migrant workers are unemployed, but few are returning to Mexico and instead – for the time being – are sitting out the recession. But they still have to pay the rent, and increasingly they’re getting that money from home. The amounts are modest by comparison to what was earlier sent from the States, still for Mexico it is significant.

Senate health care bill excludes the undocumented
The Senate voted on Saturday to take up a health care reform bill. The details have just been released , but the bill is less generous to the undocumented than the House version. They are completely excluded from the insurance exchanges that would be created by the law – even if they paid for their insurance out of their own pockets.