Remittances Short Changed
BY LILY MIHALIK
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Rosa Herrera in front of Alamar International Services at 2390 Mission St. (Lily Mihalik)
For the Mission District’s many money wiring services, Fridays once meant payday and local immigrants lined up to send money home. Now pockets and narrow halls are empty. Even the cashiers have watched their hours and their paychecks dwindle.
“It’s been pretty bad the last six months, now people send half, a third, or even a fourth of what they used to send before,” said Rosa Herrera, a clerk at Alamar International Services at 2390 Mission St. who works several hours a week less nowadays. “I have one client who used to sent $1,500 a month, now he sends only $200.”
Marilla Bonilla, office manager of Banco Americo at 2498 Mission St. has seen the same trend. “People used to send once or twice a week, $300 dollars and up, but now, now most of the guys who work in construction, gardeners, and restaurants, they’re out of work,” she said.
Twice in the last three months, Bonilla said, immigrants living here have come by to pick up cash sent from home. But reverse remittances are not wide spread, she said.
Remittances, the $328 billion immigrants send to their homelands yearly, are expected to fall by 7.3 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank. Remittance flows to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador have dropped by 10 to 11 percent so far this year, in comparison to 2007-2008.
For years those numbers have risen, buoyed by immigrants who found easy work in San Francisco’s construction business and among its affluent residents. Now, the slowdown is apparent everywhere in the Mission District, where nearly half of its residents come from Mexico or Central America.
Construction work citywide has fallen by more than 20 percent, according to the San Francisco Building Construction Trades Council.
“More and more people are on our ‘Out of Work’ list, it’s bad times so we are even having to turn some people away,” said David De La Torre the Secretary-Treasurer of Laborer’s Local 261, a construction worker’s union located on 18th and Shotwell. Two weeks ago their ‘Out of Work’ list tipped the scale at more than 400. In better economic times, Local 261 averaged 120 members, but nowadays some can’t afford to pay the $35 monthly fee.“They are dropping out, and our membership is dwindling,” said De La Torre. “And they can be on the waiting list for up to five months before getting a job.”
Alma Rosas no longer sends remittances home. (Lily Mihalik)
This recession has also hit stock portfolios hard, and that has had its own trickle down effect.
“People just can’t afford to keep nannies anymore, they send their kids to daycare or school,” said Alma Rosas of Michoacán, Mexico who lost her nanny job earlier this summer. “I used to pick up gardening jobs and clean houses, but even those aren’t available anymore.”
“I have to pay my bills here before I send anything home, and then there is nothing left.”