Mexican migrants sent home 36 percent less money in October than a year earlier, marking the largest drop since records began being kept in 1996, Mexico's central bank said Tuesday.
Analysts said the steep drop was another indication that Mexico's economic recovery will be slow due to its close ties with the United States, which buys 80 percent of Mexican exports in addition to providing work for millions of legal and illegal migrants.
"It's one more bad sign for an already sluggish Mexican economy, but particularly for the fortunes of the poorest Mexicans, who have already been suffering," said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
Money sent home by migrants has been Mexico's second largest source of foreign income, behind only oil exports. Officials have said remittances are declining because of the U.S. economic downturn, particularly in the construction market.
Mexicans abroad sent home $1.69 billion in October, nearly $1 billion less than the $2.64 billion transferred in October 2008, the Bank of Mexico said. Migrants sent a total of $18.1 billion in the year's first 10 months, down 16 percent from the same period last year.
Daniel Chiquiar, director of economic measurement for the Bank of Mexico, said unemployment rates among migrants in the United States are even higher than the overall 10.2 percent jobless rate reported by U.S. officials for October.
"Undocumented workers and immigrant workers in general are having a hard time finding their niche in the U.S. economy," Selee told The Associated Press.
The struggling construction market north of the border in particular is hurting migrant workers, analysts said.
Of the more than 11.8 million Mexicans living in the U.S., about 22 percent work in construction, said Hector Rodriguez, director of the public policy doctoral program at the Institute of Technology and Superior Studies in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported a slim increase of 0.04 percent in construction spending between September and October on Tuesday, after five consecutive months of contraction.
Even if the construction market picks up, remittances to Mexico may still be slow to rebound, said Robert Meins, a remittances specialist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.
"There might be slightly more jobs, but they're paid less an hour," he said.
Last year, migrants sent $26 billion to Mexico, placing the country first in Latin America and third among the world's remittance recipients, behind India and China, according to the World Bank.
Mexico's total for last year was down from 2007, in the first instance of a decline recorded by the central bank. Since then, every month this year has shown a significant decrease from the same month of 2008.
Meins said the latest drop was even more dramatic because many migrants rushed to send extra money home in October 2008 as the value of the dollar rose against the Mexican peso.
He said this year's total will end up below the level of 2005 and the numbers could continue to decline.
"People have been basically using their savings to continue to send money home," Meins said. "If people are using their savings right now, how long can they continue doing that, and what happens when they can't do that anymore?"
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