Mexican Remittances And Covid-19

Depending on what media outlet you are reading you are likely to get two or more versions of the real story. This has been true for years because biases are part of what is published for public consumption. Take for example remittances from Mexicans working in the United States, both legal and undocumented and the money they send back to México.

Remittances are monies sent by workers in one country, in this case, the United States, to their families in their home countries.

In 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service, there were $36 billion transferred from the United States to México in the form of remittances. These are México’s largest source of foreign currency, outpacing Mexican oil exports.

In the 1980’s, México opened up its economy and began to transition away from an oil economy towards an economy based on consumable exports. Tourism, auto-related exports and remittances drive México’s economy today.

Donald Trump threatened to tax remittances to México to pay for his wall. Trump has yet to implement his threat.

As Covid-19 started to slow down the American economy, dire warnings of a downturn in remittances started to be sounded by economists. On April 14, The Wall Street Journal warned that remittances to México would contract by “21% between 2020 and 2021 due to the effects of the coronavirus.”

The American economy has ground to a halt in most places and economic lifelines for unemployment benefits are mostly limited to legal immigrants and citizens, excluding the undocumented workforce.

Yet something curious has happened on the way towards the doom and gloom predicted by economists.

Instead of dropping remittances expected by many, they went up.

Not only did they not drop, but the “surged” according to Reuters on May 4.

“The significant acceleration of the remittances in March is difficult to square with the labor market conditions” in the U.S., Alberto Ramos, an economist at Goldman Sachs, was quoted by Reuters in a recent article.

In March, the Mexican economy received $4.02 billion in remittances, an increase of 36% from the same time last year. Most of that money flowed from workers in the United States. This, despite the loss of work because of the pandemic.

Some economists are now speculating that the unexpected surge in remittances is the result of migrant workers taking advantage of the drop in the value of the Mexican Peso, in anticipation of long-term work stoppages or both.

However, there remains a disconnect between the notion that work stoppages have affected to ability to send remittances and the actual monies sent to México by Mexicans in the U.S.
Most demographers agree that 25% of all foreigners living in the United States were born in México. Also, it is assumed that about 11 million Mexican-born immigrants make up the 25% of foreign-born residents of the country. Some have argued that as much as half of the 11 million are undocumented immigrants.

Assuming that the numbers are correct, the assumed 6-7 million undocumented immigrants are not receiving stimulus funds nor assistance from government agencies during the pandemic emergency. Thus, the question becomes, where did the monies sent to México in March originate from?

Do the monies signify that Mexican undocumented workers are still working in “essential” labor sectors while U.S. citizens remain at home? The answer to this question may be better understood once the remittances for April are announced sometime in June.

The question, however, deserves an answer.

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