José Luis Ramírez spent much of the past winter tinkering in his tiny workshop in a trailer park off
But his new laid-back lifestyle wasn’t his choice: Since late last year, Ramírez hadn’t been able to find the full-time, $10-an-hour painting jobs in construction he had relied on in the past. His inventions and ballroom talents didn’t produce any income, and the pay for odd jobs and bussing tables on weekends was not enough to make ends meet, let alone to allow him to send money to his family in Mexico. In February, a
“I didn’t even get to talk to my dad before he died,” says the mild-mannered 20-something. “And they don’t like us here. I think it’s time to go home.”
So in April, Ramírez stuck “For Sale” signs on his trailer and motorbike and decided to head back to central
Ramírez isn’t alone.
The flock at St. Jude,
In many cases, fathers have left wives and children behind to look for jobs elsewhere, says Gutiérrez. And many of those who stayed put are struggling. The church is collecting donations to offer one-time financial help for parishioners who can’t pay their utility bills.
“There’s a lot of despair,” says Gutiérrez, a native of
Many Latino businesses in
Without difficulty, she rattles off at least five Latino business owners who had to close locations for lack of clientele. Antonio Santa María is one of them. He had two Botas 3 Hermanas stores—one in Palmetto and another along U.S. 301 in
Retailers’ problems have traveled up the economic food chain. Luis Eduardo Barón has built a small but fast-growing Spanish-language publishing company since he arrived in
Most Latino businesspeople are still hanging in there. César Gómez, executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, says he hasn’t seen any bankruptcies among member companies. But most businesses have seen sales shrink, says the Colombian lawyer who came here in 2005. And he has seen smaller real estate offices and independent agents join bigger agencies, he adds.
“We Latinos are more used to coping with economic troubles,” Gómez says.
This is a harsh U-turn for the
Most economists agree that an immigrant influx translates to economic growth. There are no estimates as to the economic contributions of immigrants in the bicounty area. But according to a
To be sure, it’s too early for statistical proof of a lasting remigration trend, says Stan Smith, director of the
In three out of four cases in this area, “immigrant” means Hispanic. And more than half of the nearly 50,000 Hispanic residents in the bicounty area have a Mexican background. So whatever happens in
and Canadian grains and beans is likely to push hundreds of thousands working in agriculture out of business, because Mexican growers cannot compete. This, in turn, will fuel emigration.
And if they keep coming, expect more economic growth here. Extrapolating from previous growth, the authors of the
Remittances—the funds workers send home—are the best barometer for immigration. Although dropping below the customary two-digit growth rates of the past decade, overall remittances in 2007 to Latin American and Caribbean nations from family members working abroad continued to grow (see table, page XX). But that growth is slowing down. In
Even so, the bank—which attributes the downturn in remittances to stricter enforcement of immigration laws in the United States—still expects 2008 remittances to break last year’s record.
Indeed, some businesspeople report new immigrant arrivals and people coming back from other states, after leaving
“They keep coming from
“Some of them are coming back now,” she says. “They’re discovering that the climate is warmer here. We have Latin climate here. And they discovered that they’re less welcome in other states that aren’t used to immigrants. The police and government are better here.”
Other signs back up Holmlund’s optimism. The owner of La Villita says one business that had closed, Jenny's Bridal, is reopening. The Mexican consulate in
And the Hispanic exodus adds to the overall economic uncertainty in the area. It compounds the demographic cool-down announced by
The sudden absence of thousands of Hispanic immigrants also has an indirect impact on companies that don’t primarily sell to that clientele. The immigrants send a lot of money home. But they also pay rent, and what’s left they spend on food, entertainment and, in many cases, cars, trucks, appliances—and beer.
“It’s been a huge hit to retail,” says John Saputo, owner and president of the Sarasota-based Anheuser-Busch distributorship.
The mainstream retailers hardest hit by remigration are chain convenience stores and gas stations near Hispanic neighborhoods, according to Saputo. And slowing retail sales eventually hit suppliers as well. For the first time in the 11 years Saputo has owned Gold Coast Eagle Distributing he is seeing soft sales.
Saputo’s distributorship has been able to compensate falling Hispanic sales with rising tourist sales this winter, thanks to a strong season. But he believes the full effect of the exodus will be felt once the tourist season is over, with a 1 percent to 2 percent sales decline.
“This summer, we’re going to miss the immigrants,” he says.
Saputo, who has access to sophisticated check cashing data from convenience stores in Sarasota and Manatee, mainly blames the disappearance of Mexican immigrants. “These are young people, the 21- to 40-year olds, that we’re missing. They’re the best consumers we’re losing.”
“We did a study of 16 convenience stores,” Saputo says. “We opened, for instance, a file under ‘A,’ such as ‘Alvarado,’ and we realized Mr. Alvarado hadn’t had any check cashing activity in the last months. When we asked, [the convenience store owner] told us the gentleman was a painter, but the paint company had laid him off. He has no support system, so he just got in his car with his family and drove to another state with jobs.”
“I’ve been through recessions before, in
Since an estimated one-third of immigrants are undocumented, the fallout from that exodus doesn’t trigger headlines. But if the Hispanic exodus continues at the pace experienced at Father Celestino’s church, sales tax collections—upon which the state budget depends to a large degree—and school populations will shrink, which in turn will likely diminish resources for schools.
In fact schools are in for a double whammy. In the 2005-06 school year,
“I know some have broken immigration laws,” Saputo says. “But they’re working hard, and sending parents to another country without a notice to their children—that’s not the
“The big corporations don’t have a heart,” says Father Gutiérrez, the St. Jude priest. “Society, on an institutional level, has lost sensitivity; it has lost the welcoming atmosphere so exemplified by this country. Instead of looking for humanitarian solutions, they want to enforce the law. The emigrants will always go to where there’s work. But there is resentment, and it’s growing.”