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Mexican workers send less cash home from the US

For the first time in 13 years, the flow of remittances to Mexico has fallen.

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Over the past decade, entire towns in Mexico have been rebuilt with money sent from immigrants or migrant workers living in the US.

Now, for the first time since Mexico's Central Bank began keeping records (13 years ago), total annual remittances from the US have fallen.

The numbers themselves, released by the Central Bank on Tuesday, are not dramatic. Mexicans sent $25 billion to their families in 2008, down from $26 billion the year before, representing a 3.6 percent decline.

But the break in the trend is significant, say economists. Less cash coming to low-income families who then spend it on goods and services, will mean more frugal spending, which will in turn be a further drag on the Mexican economy this year. And it will impact millions of families whose entire incomes depend on the dollars sent from men and women working as construction workers, lettuce pickers, and housekeepers from California to New York.

"This translates into social pressure," says Heliodoro Gil Corona, an economist at the School of Economists in the Mexican state of Michoacán. "It means a lack of employment. It means a lack of income. It even means more crime and insecurity."

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