Category Archives: Remittances

Ripple Effects on Remittances

New Orleans       One thing leads to another.  Easy to say, but hard to endure, especially when it comes to the economic damage that keeps spreading from the pandemic shutdowns.  This is the real trickledown economics, and it’s not a good thing.

In this case, I’m talking about remittances from migrant workers and immigrant families living and working in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States.  Figure it out.  With 22 million unemployed in the United States and millions elsewhere around the world, you don’t have to be a world-class economist to realize that with work shut down, workers are not going to have the money left over to send back to families in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.

ACORN’s Remittance Justice Campaign has worked to bring this issue forward for years because the costs from most money transfer organizations, whether Western Union, Money Mart or the host of smaller outfits, are often exorbitant.  The World Bank’s goal of a 5% charge is mostly just an empty exhortation, if that, and doesn’t include the cost of conversion or larding on of other fees at the back end of the transfer.  Additionally, its exercise of setting a goal for costs is just that, an “exercise,” since, when queried by ACORN, its response has always been that it is the job of each nation’s central banking system to police any rate setting.  Our efforts to legislate in various countries have also not been successful to date.

It matters though.  Speaking to ACORN Honduras organizers recently, the entire conversation was about hunger.  Where we were mapping the promised food rations, we found the effort increasingly meaningless as we recognized that most of the support is going to San Pedro Sula and Cortez, the port city on the Gulf of Mexico, where the coronavirus outbreak has been most severe.  Unemployment has soared.  Many of the manufacturing plants, the maquilas, located around San Pedro Sula and owned by foreign interests have closed and some may not come back.  There is no national unemployment insurance or safety net.  There have been food riots in Cortez and other cities.  Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and even Nicaragua depend on remittances as a major percentage of their GNP.  The bottom is falling out.

Africa is in the hot water.  According to reporting by The Economist, transfers from one company from Britain to east Africa have dropped by 80% and from Italy to Africa by 90%.  In Lesotho, remittances are 16% of GDP, in Nigeria 6%, and in Senegal 10% where the remittances originate in Italy, Spain, and France.  The hawala system of person-to-person money transfer that depends on money being flown into countries and exchanged, especially in the Middle East and south Asia, has also been decimated with planes not flying.  “Bankers in Somalia, where remittances are worth 23% of GDP, say they are running out of notes.”

The hunger won’t be limited to Honduras. It will be global and, tragically, will likely take more lives than the virus.  Globalism now seems to end at a nation’s own borders.  It is unlikely that there will be any worldwide effort from richer countries to bail out poorer ones, with their economies now on the ropes as well.  Despite the rhetoric, people-to-people remittances far surpass foreign aid, and with countries tightfisted, and families reeling, this is a horror exploding without ready relief.

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Please enjoy Light Of Love by Florence & The Machine.

Thanks to WAMF.

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The Human Cost of Globalism: New York Nannies and Georgetown Slaves

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:thenewyorktimes

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:The New York Times

New Orleans   The argument changes when the global economy acquires a human face. Rarely has that been clearer than in two recent stories, one about a Filipino nanny in New York City and the other tracing the descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University to their graveyards and relatives in Louisiana.

We talk about the predatory nature of remittances frequently because they bleed immigrant families and migrant workers of critical financial resources that they are sending their families and communities in their home countries as well as the quality of living and employment conditions where they work. The New Yorker ran a long story about a woman they called “Emma” from the Philippines, college educated in accounting with nine daughters and a husband. At forty-four years old with her oldest two daughters in college she came to the realization that there was no way on the wages paid in the Philippines that they would be able to pay for seven more to also go to college. She then made the wrenching decision to join a migrant “mother’s march” of sorts, joining a sister, women from her church, and a former home economics teacher in illegally migrating to the US to work as a nanny and caregiver.

The article points out that more than half of the workers surveyed several years ago by the Domestic Workers Alliance were undocumented. It also makes clear that the new, 21st century migrant is more likely to be a women and someone employed in the service industry as a caregiver than in older migrations of construction and factory workers. A huge export from the Philippines is workers, known as OFW or Overseas Filipino Workers since “a tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” And, it’s usually the mothers now, since “in the past decade, three-quarters of OFWs have been women.” Emma has not seen her children or husband or been home in 16 years. She has missed her mother’s funeral, though she and her sister paid for it. She has gotten her daughters through college but the exchange has been living on $20 per week and afraid to go home because she could be prevented from returning and now doesn’t have enough money yet to retire in the Philippines either. Besides the predatory exchange rate on remittances, she now has lived the bad bargain of trading hoped for opportunity for her family with her own life and a list of payments in small tragedies of loss in her family.

The story of Georgetown University’s reckoning with the its actions as a slaveholder and slave seller is the same type of story except under a more coercive commerce when globalism was even more ruthless in finding labor for jobs few wanted at unconscionable pay rates. Prices were put on human life, families were ripped apart, children and adults were chattel. The New York Times detailed how the Catholic priests presiding over Georgetown sold 272 slaves from plantations no longer able to fully support the school to “save” the university and pull it out of debt. The records of the sale and the work of genealogists have allowed them to track down relatives of many of the families that ended up in Louisiana. A great-great granddaughter of one who was sold as a child was able to find his burial place, and she and others are demanding Georgetown do right in partial exchange for its historic wrong by offering scholarships to descendants of that horrid sale. It would seem to be the least they could do.

At the end of these articles, detailing the terrible costs of exploitation, forced or voluntary, it was almost impossible not to have tears in your eyes for them, for ourselves, and for the wretched waste of people ground up in the gears of our unfeeling global economy and the unequal price paid for the wealth of nations and the people who spend it so freely.

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