As dollar falls, migrants feel pinch
Their earnings don't stretch as far for family overseas, so many are working extra hours.
Working in the kitchen at a mid-priced restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., Jose Lucas managed to cover all the expenses of his wife and three kids in his native Brazil. But that changed when the real appreciated 60 percent against the US dollar in the past three years.Skip to next paragraph
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"I had to get more hours at work so I could send more money," says Mr. Lucas. "I used to work 40 hours a week. Now, I work 56." So far, the extra hours have made up the difference.
Across the US, the falling dollar value has sent ripples through immigrant communities that send money to family overseas. As some currencies for developing countries have risen substantially against the dollar, many immigrant workers are increasing their workweek by up to 20 hours or taking second jobs. If the dollar's slide continues, the US may become less attractive to migrant workers, analysts say.
"You'd be hard pressed, if you don't already have close relatives in the United States, to make a rational case, if you're in those countries and thinking of emigrating, to come to the United States," says Donald Terry, a senior official at the Inter-American Development Bank. "The clincher would be: Do you want to send home $300 or 300 euros?"
The monthly or weekly payouts provide healthcare, schooling, food, and other items for the migrants' families back home. "Remittances are the best kind of foreign aid we've got," says Dan Griswold, a trade and immigration expert at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research foundation in Washington. "It goes family to family with minimal cut by middlemen."
Yet the experiences of two other migrants living in Massachusetts illustrate the recent challenges. As a certified nursing aid working near Quincy, Arlene Schwartz has been paying for her sister's schooling, including college, back in the Philippines. However, the Filipino peso has appreciated nearly 27 percent against the US dollar in the past three years. Her native country has also seen marked inflation.
"Because the dollar kept going down and college is more expensive, I had to send more money. $200 became $500," she says. Sometimes Mrs. Schwartz, who also sends her family large packages of food, has worked 24 to 32 hours of overtime a week to comfortably make up the difference.