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COVID-19

Remittances to some Latin American countries are booming

Erika Beras Sep 2, 2020
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A woman counts cash outside a U.S. remittance collection agency in El Salvador. Remittances to that nation and others in the region declined sharply, then rebounded. Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Remittances to some Latin American countries are booming

Erika Beras Sep 2, 2020
Heard on:
A woman counts cash outside a U.S. remittance collection agency in El Salvador. Remittances to that nation and others in the region declined sharply, then rebounded. Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images
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Last year, migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean remitted nearly $100 billion to family members back in their home countries. Early in the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that remittances from the U.S. to Latin America would fall by 20%. But payments to some Latin American countries have bounced back.

For the past eight years, 24-year-old Byron Chamorro’s father has been sending money to his wife, Byron’s mom, in Guatemala. Then, the pandemic hit. Lots of people stayed home. But not Chamorro’s father. He delivers food for an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.

“He actually started working on the weekend, which was something he did not do,” Chamorro said.

And the money he remits to Guatemala?

“The amount that he sent increased a little bit during the pandemic,” he said— $150 a week, instead of $100.

Mark Hugo Lopez, director of global migration and demography research at the Pew Research Center, said that in April, there was a steep decline in remittances to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, but those have rebounded. He said that’s because migrants from those countries tend to do essential work — farming, food production, hospitality. Meanwhile, remittances to Mexico never declined at all. In fact, they’ve been increasing all year.

“Many Mexican immigrants have been in the U.S. for so long that they’re able to navigate better some of the uncertainties about the labor market associated with the COVID-19 downturn,” Hugo Lopez said.

That’s good news for Mexico, which is grappling with the loss of tourism. Roy Germano, senior research scholar at the New York University School of Law, said that’s true of a lot of Latin America.

“But often in those countries, there really isn’t much of a safety net to speak of, and migrants play that safety net role,” he said.

Diego Vacaflores, an economics professor at Texas State University, plays that role. He sends money monthly to his parents in Bolivia. When he saw the shortages of products here in the U.S., “I knew that was gonna happen eventually in Latin America, and I tried to get my family to be prepared for that, to do it before things run out in the market,” he said.

So he sent them an extra $1,000 this spring.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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