October 3, 2008

Economic Crises Hits the Working-Class Hardest

By Mariana Martínez

“I have been here 20 years and this has been the hardest I’ve experienced, the hardest of all, I tell you….” says Aurelio Jaime waiting to take the trolley to a job interview.

That’s job interview number 12 since he was laid off 5 months ago.

He has been living in California for over 20 years, always working as a cook or waiter, until now, when he is colecting an unemployment check, not able to support his wife and 15 year old daughter.

The financial crisis has hit the hardest amongst working-class families with little or no savings, those with chronically ill children and single mothers, as well as recent immigrants.

After months in debt or looking for work, those with ties with Mexico are looking back South to alleviate their financial struggles and tap into social networks to help them trough the rough financial times.

That can be easily perceived at the San Isidro Trolley station where Aurelio waits.

The kiosks are full of ads for paycheck loans; an exchange house is advertising its new pawnshop service. A practically vacant mall has only two 99 cents stores open.

Now Aurelio considers going back to Mexico, the land he left when he was just 20 years old.

“I know it’s just a dream, but if I’m struggling in California, I might as well face the crisis with my friends and family and not getting deeper into debt,” he explains.

According to the August report from Mexico Central Bank (Banexico), remittances have fallen 4.2% this year, the biggest fall since they started following remittances, in 1995.

The drop has been even more significant in August, where remittances fell an astounding 12.2%, equivalent to 1 billion, 973 million dollars, taking the total loss of remittances from January to August this year to well over 15.5 billion dollars.

In its monthly “Family Remittances Report”, Banexico found the average monthly remittance was 349 dollars, a .7% point annual decrease.

Analysts say the main reason is the fall of the construction and housing business, a niche where an estimated 20% of all Mexican immigrants where working before the mortgage crisis.

Doctor José María Ramos is a border dynamics expert from Colegio de la Frontera Norte a social think tank in Tijuana, who agrees, “reverse migration” has been trickling back to Mexico.

“If there are still some job opportunities, specially for undocumented immigrants that have been here for 4 or 5 years, they are going to stay”, he explains, “those who might be going back are those arriving to the United States for the first time, who have little community ties and might find it harder to stay”.

There are no numbers yet as to how many people are actually coming back, but Mexican Consulates in Texas have already reported a high in the number of Mexicans asking for school transcripts to be translated to Spanish, so their kids can get into schools in Mexico.

“The case of Texas is even more complex”, Dr. Ramos says, “because new laws have been approved, limiting the socio-cultural integration to life in the United States, I would say that is another factor inducing migration back to Mexico”.

But it’s not just recent immigrants who are in trouble.

27 year-old Rosario Castarena is a second generation Mexican American, and a single mother of 3 boys, ages 10, 6 and 4.

She doesn’t have a job and is asking for change, in order to buy dippers for her 4 year old autistic son, who also has permanent brain damage.

“I’m so ashamed to be here asking for coins” she confessed, “I have been thinking of going to clean the freeway, sweep the street, be a volunteer, anything to get the County to help me”.

She has been living with her sister, who is also a single mother of two.

Castarena has been looking for a job but all she gets is minimum wage night shifts, she says she can’t take because County childcare services are only available from 8 to 6.

She applied for Section 8 Housing, but was told in San Diego County the process can take 6 to 8 years before she can move into a unit, she applied welfare and food stamps she hopes to start receiving next month.

“You know what? I feel like I’m drowning here, I can’t find the way out. I have three kids, I’m a single mother and I can’t afford the rent. That’s why I’m moving to Tijuana, I just can’t afford to live here”.

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