Pandemic's Economic Impact Hits LA Immigrants — And Their Families Abroad

Experts are already predicting a significant drop in remittances from the U.S. to Mexico due to coronavirus. (Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

As more and more people lose their jobs, immigrants are faced with the challenge of paying their rent and buying food here in the U.S., or sending money back to their home countries.

That's the problem that 50-year old Rosalia Olaya from Santa Monica is dealing with right now. She is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, where her siblings live. Every month, she sends about $1,500 to $2,000 to help them out.

But this month, Olaya had to stop. Her income has taken a hit since the pandemic swept through the L.A. area.

NO WORK, NO MONEY

Before COVID-19, Olaya worked three jobs: as a property manager, notary public and an income tax preparer.

But now, work — especially notaries and tax preparation — has slowed down because she can't meet people in person.

"At this point last year I would have already completed all my clients' [taxes]," Olaya said. "Right now, I have only completed half."

She now only has $2,000 a month to support herself and the elderly mother who lives with her. That's the same amount she usually sends to Mexico to her brother, who has a medical problem, and her sister, a single mom with four kids.

"I have to really, really hold off because I don't know how long this is going to be like this," Olaya said.

THE IMPACT ACROSS BORDERS

Olaya is not the only one who sends money back home to her family.

Last year, immigrant workers sent back $36 billion from the U.S. to Mexico, according to Manuel Orozco, Director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, a D.C.-based think tank.

He expects remittances to drop by $6 billion by the end of this year.

"We are talking about 1 million households in Mexico that will not receive money in 2020."

The global nature of the coronavirus only increases the economic pressure immigrant workers like Olaya find themselves under. She worries that without the money she normally sends, her siblings will be unable to make ends meet in Oaxaca, a city that depends heavily on tourism.

Ever since the pandemic hit, tourism to Oaxaca has virtually stopped, and work has all but dried up.