A study of remittances from Central American and Mexican labor migrants in the United States : a family-level approach to economic well-being
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Central America and Mexico are characterized by high levels of poverty. In response, labor migration has emerged as a major strategy among families through the sending of earnings (or remittances) to households back home. Large amounts of remittances are sent, with over $13 billion to Central America and more than $23 billion to Mexico in 2011. While remittances to Mexico have been studied extensively, much less is known about the factors associated with remittances to Central America. This mixed methods study examined remittance sending and use patterns of Mexican and Central American labor migrants to the United States. Data on remittance behaviors were drawn from two major surveys, the Latin American Migration Project and Mexican Migration Project. Quantitative analyses were conducted using multiple regression to examine family-level predictors for the decision to engage in labor migration, whether remittances were sent, amount of remittances sent, and the purposes for remitting. Qualitative analysis involved focus group interviews of Mexican and Central American migrants in the United States who currently remit to their families back home. These interviews helped to discern the meaning of remittances for migrants and their families. The quantitative results suggest that top purposes for remitting include food and daily maintenance, education, health, and housing. Additionally, remittance sending patterns differed by region of origin. Mexican migrants were more likely to send remittances and to remit larger amounts. Additionally, individuals from Mexico had increased odds of sending funds for housing expenditures while Central Americans had greater odds of remitting for education and consumer goods. According to respondents who participated in the qualitative study, increasing costs of food, health, and education coupled with limited employment options contribute to a reliance on labor migration in both regions. For many, remittances have emerged as an essential source of income for economic wellbeing and even survival. A key implication for social work of this study on the larger population patterns on remittances is that at the family level, migrants carry a dual responsibility to settle into a new country while also maintaining the economic wellbeing of family left behind.