Poor people supporting poorer people

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KAI RYSSDAL: A new study out today offers compelling evidence the labor market has gone global. Roughly 150 million people have left their homes and taken jobs abroad. They send billions of dollars back home -- and those foreign remittances, as they're called, are going to, and coming from, some unexpected places.

Marketplace's Steve Henn has more.


Steve Henn: What is the biggest anti-poverty program in world? If you think it's run by the U.N. or the World Bank, you're wrong. Its:

Donald Terry: Poor people sending even poorer people $100, $200, even $300 at a time.

Donald Terry is the general manager of the Inter-American Development Bank. A report by Terry's bank and others found when you add it all up, the amount of money sent from migrant workers to family members back home topped $300 billion last year alone.

To put that number in perspective, Terry says it's roughly three times the total global foreign aid budget. It's more money that the global aid budget and all direct foreign investment combined. And most of that money is not going to Latin America, and it's not coming from the U.S.

Kevin Cleaver is with the U.N.'s International Fund for Agricultural Development:

Kevin Cleaver: You think of this as a Western hemisphere phenomenon... This is now a global phenomenon -- Mongolia now gets remittances.

In fact, remittances accounts for more than 7 percent of that country's GDP. India received more than $24 billion from abroad last year -- more than Mexico. And Russia received more than $13 billion this way.

Cleaver: I think this is a real paradigm shift, actually, because of the amounts we are talking about, and because it is in private hands.

Cleaver says this report was the first attempt to put a dollar figure on remittances globally, and he hopes it will help development economists change the way they think. At the very least, it illustrates that until now, the single-largest source of aid to the developing world was operating almost entirely under the radar.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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