February 27, 2012
International Trade and Finance
Migrants' Remittances and Related Economic Flows
February 24, 2011
Migrants' remittances—payments sent by foreign-born workers back to their home country—have become a significant source of monetary inflows for many countries. In 2009, such remittances from the United States to other countries totaled more than $48 billion, nearly 30 percent more in inflation-adjusted terms than they were in 2000. People in Mexico receive more of the remittances sent from the United States than do residents of any other country.
This document updates and expands upon the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO's) May 2005 publication Remittances: International Payments by Migrants. That paper included data through 2003; this document includes data through 2009. The existing data on global remittances are not of very high quality, however, and the comparisons and trends reported here should be viewed only as approximations.
Migrants to the United States often send money to people in their home country or take it with them when they return home. Those transfers can involve sending money through banks or other institutions to family members or others in the home country, making financial investments in the home country, or returning to the home country while retaining bank accounts or claims on other financial assets in the United States. All three types of actions are similar in their economic effects, even though only transfers of money through banks and other financial institutions to foreign individuals are commonly thought of as migrants' remittances.
As one of the most important destinations of global migration, the United States is the largest national source of remittances. The opportunity to send or bring remittances home is one of the important motivations for migration, and policies that affect migration to the United States could affect outflows of remittances. In turn, the flow of remittances can affect economic growth, labor markets, poverty rates, and future migration rates in the United States as well as in recipient countries.
This document updates and expands upon the Congressional Budget Office's previous analysis of remittances—Remittances: International Payments by Migrants (May 2005)—and presents data through 2009. The new presentation provides a better view of people's total transfers of money between the United States and other countries but, because of changes in the way the data are collected and reported, does not provide as much information as was previously available on the portion of those transfers that is attributable to migrants. (See "Notes and Definitions" at the beginning of the full document for a summary of terminology and the appendix for a discussion of recent changes in the classification of remittances.) The existing data on global remittances and related economic flows are not of very high quality, and the comparisons and trends reported here should be viewed only as approximations.
Remittances from the United States (Exhibits 1 to 4)
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates that migrants' remittances totaled about $48 billion in 2009—nearly 70 percent more than official development assistance provided by the U.S. government. Nearly $38 billion of that amount was personal transfers by foreign-born residents in the United States to households abroad. The rest, about $11 billion, reflected the compensation of employees who were in the United States for less than a year; some of that compensation, however, was spent in the United States. No breakdown of the regional destination of the money sent home is available for 2009, but in 2003, by BEA's estimate, about two-thirds of personal transfers went to countries in the Western Hemisphere, one-quarter went to countries in Asia and the Pacific, and the rest went to countries in Europe and Africa. BEA also reports that, in 2009, migrants' capital transfers (that is, individuals' transfers for themselves, as opposed to transfers to others) amounted to nearly $3 billion on net.
BEA estimates outflows of personal transfers on the basis of four characteristics: the size of the foreign-born population (differentiated by duration of stay in the United States, family type, country of origin, and sex), the percentage of the foreign-born population that remits, the income of the foreign-born population, and the percentage of income that the foreign-born population remits.
No information is publicly available on flows of migrants' remittances from the United States to specific regions or countries. Such details are available only for a category that BEA calls "net private remittances and other transfers," which measures outflows minus inflows (rather than outflows only) and includes institutional remittances by U.S. nonprofit organizations as well as a variety of other minor transactions. For 2009, BEA reports net private remittances and other transfers of $74 billion and net compensation of nonresident employees of nearly $8 billion, for a total of $82 billion in net outflows. That figure represented about 0.6 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009. About 40 percent, or $33 billion, went to other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Another $17 billion was sent to countries in Asia and the Pacific, $9 billion flowed to countries in Europe, and $5 billion was transferred to countries in Africa.
Effects in Recipient Countries (Exhibits 5 and 6)
Remittances can have both positive and negative effects on the economies of recipient countries. The transfers provide a country's economy with foreign currency, help finance imports, improve the balance of payments in its international accounts, and increase national income. However, the migration that generates remittances also reduces the labor force of the country of origin, and remittances may reduce the remaining family members' incentive to work. The available evidence suggests that recipients with income below a threshold level tend to use remittances primarily for consumption, including, for instance, purchases of food, consumer goods, and health care. In surveys of people in the United States who remitted money to Mexico, for example, 70 percent reported that consumption was the only purpose, 3 percent reported that asset accumulation was the only purpose, and 26 percent said that both consumption and asset accumulation were reasons for remitting. Nevertheless, evidence from some developing countries suggests that households in those countries tend to save a larger portion of income from remittances than from other sources of income, providing a source of capital for investment.
Concurrent with the overall increase in global remittances has been a decline in the fees charged by financial institutions to make those transfers. Between 2001 and 2009, the fees charged to transfer $200 to six countries in Latin America declined by an average of at least 3 percent per year (for Haiti) to 10 percent per year (for Colombia), possibly because of lower transaction costs resulting from technological progress and more awareness among migrants about alternative ways to remit.
Remittances to Mexico (Exhibits 7 to 9)
Mexico is the destination of the largest amount of remittances from the United States. According to BEA's estimates, of the $33 billion (net) transferred from the United States to people in other countries in the Western Hemisphere in 2009 or earned as compensation by short-term migrants, about $20 billion was identified in the international economic accounts as going to Mexico; by BEA's estimates, such flows from the United States to Mexico (adjusted for inflation) rose by an average of 2 percent per year between 2000 and 2009. The Banco de Mxico estimates that all gross inflows of funds from abroad—not only from the United States—were about $22 billion in 2009. (The bank does not estimate outflows.) Estimates from the Banco de Mxico indicate that all gross inflows (adjusted for inflation) rose by an average of 11 percent per year during the past decade.
The difference between BEA's and the Banco de Mxico's estimates could stem not only from differences in definitions but also from differences in methodology and source data. Beginning in 2003, all Mexican banks and money transfer companies were required to register with the Banco de Mxico and to report monthly remittances by state. (Prior to that rule change, the Banco de Mxico inferred remittances from a 1990 census of different Mexican financial institutions.) In addition, around that time, the "matricula consular"—an identification card issued by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals living outside of the country—began to be accepted for opening bank accounts in the United States; that change may have helped facilitate money transfers to Mexico in a way that allowed the Banco de Mxico to better record them. Finally, the Banco de Mxico also conducts a border survey that asks returning migrants about cash and goods that they are bringing to relatives in Mexico. With the apparent increased use of more formal channels to transfer money between the United States and Mexico and those border surveys, the official Mexican statistics are recording cash transfers not captured in the past.
Global Flows of Remittances (Exhibits 10 to 13)
According to the International Monetary Fund, total inflows of remittances globallythe sum of personal transfers, compensation of employees, and migrants' capital transferswere about $407 billion in 2008 (in nominal dollars), up from about $150 billion in 2002, an average increase of 18 percent per year. About two-thirds of global inflows was sent as personal transfers, about 30 percent was recorded as compensation of employees, and about 5 percent stemmed from migrants' capital transfers. Although total inflows and outflows of global remittances should be equal, total recorded outflows—about $289 billion in 2008—are generally much lower than total recorded inflows. The discrepancy between total inflows and total outflows underscores the deficiencies of remittance data, which are collected or estimated in different ways in different countries. Even when remittance data are collected directly, discrepancies arise because of the use of informal channels for transfers of funds as well as the misclassification of remittances as tourism receipts, trade receivables, or deposits.
Total inflows of remittances constitute a small fraction of global economic activity, amounting to about 1 percent of total gross domestic product in 2008. For a number of countries, however, such funds constitute a substantial source of income: For at least six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, total inflows amounted to more than 10 percent of GDP. Further, for a number of countries, total inflows were more than double total foreign direct investment in 2008.
Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis
July 27, 2010
Over the past few years, U.S. government debt held by the public has grown rapidlyto the point that, compared with the total output of the economy, it is now higher than it has ever been except during the period around World War II. The recent increase in debt has been the result of three sets of factors: an imbalance between federal revenues and spending that predates the recession and the recent turmoil in financial markets, sharply lower revenues and elevated spending that derive directly from those economic conditions, and the costs of various federal policies implemented in response to the conditions.
Further increases in federal debt relative to the nations output (gross domestic product, or GDP) almost certainly lie ahead if current policies remain in place. The aging of the population and rising costs for health care will push federal spending, measured as a percentage of GDP, well above the levels experienced in recent decades. Unless policymakers restrain the growth of spending, increase revenues significantly as a share of GDP, or adopt some combination of those two approaches, growing budget deficits will cause debt to rise to unsupportable levels.
Although deficits during or shortly after a recession generally hasten economic recovery, persistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States. Some of those consequences would arise gradually: A growing portion of peoples savings would go to purchase government debt rather than toward investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers; that crowding out of investment would lead to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur. In addition, if the payment of interest on the extra debt was financed by imposing higher marginal tax rates, those rates would discourage work and saving and further reduce output. Rising interest costs might also force reductions in spending on important government programs. Moreover, rising debt would increasingly restrict the ability of policymakers to use fiscal policy to respond to unexpected challenges, such as economic downturns or international crises.
Beyond those gradual consequences, a growing level of federal debt would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the governments ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates. It is possible that interest rates would rise gradually as investors confidence declined, giving legislators advance warning of the worsening situation and sufficient time to make policy choices that could avert a crisis. But as other countries experiences show, it is also possible that investors would lose confidence abruptly and interest rates on government debt would rise sharply. The exact point at which such a crisis might occur for the United States is unknown, in part because the ratio of federal debt to GDP is climbing into unfamiliar territory and in part because the risk of a crisis is influenced by a number of other factors, including the governments long-term budget outlook, its near-term borrowing needs, and the health of the economy. When fiscal crises do occur, they often happen during an economic downturn, which amplifies the difficulties of adjusting fiscal policy in response.
If the United States encountered a fiscal crisis, the abrupt rise in interest rates would reflect investors fears that the government would renege on the terms of its existing debt or that it would increase the supply of money to finance its activities or pay creditors and thereby boost inflation. To restore investors confidence, policymakers would probably need to enact spending cuts or tax increases more drastic and painful than those that would have been necessary had the adjustments come sooner.
The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: An Update
July 23, 2010
People born in other countries are a growing presence in the U.S. labor force. In 1994, 1 in 10 people in the U.S. labor force was born elsewhere, but in 2009, 1 in 7 was foreign born. About 40 percent of the foreign-born labor force in 2009 was from Mexico and Central America, and more than 25 percent was from Asia.
This document updates the Congressional Budget Offices (CBOs) November 2005 paper The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market. That earlier report included data through 2004; this update, the first of several on various aspects of immigration, incorporates data through 2009. It focuses on the growing number of foreign-born workers, the countries from which they have come, their educational attainment, the types of jobs they hold, and their earnings. In keeping with CBOs mandate to provide objective, nonpartisan analysis, this report makes no recommendations.
People born in other countries represent a substantial and growing segment of the U.S. labor forcethat is, people with a job or looking for one. In 2009, 24 million members of the labor forcemore than one in sevenwere foreign born, up from 21 million in 2004. However, the growth of the foreign-born labor force was much slower between 2004 and 2009 than between 1994 and 2004. In that earlier period, the size of the foreign-born labor force grew at an average annual rate of more than 5 percent, whereas from 2004 to 2009, the rate was about 2 percent. As a share of the total, the foreign-born labor force grew from 10.0 percent in 1994 to 14.5 percent in 2004 and to 15.5 percent in 2009.
Among members of the foreign-born labor force in the United States in 2009, about half came to this country before 1994. In 2009, 40 percent of the foreign-born labor force was from Mexico and Central America, and more than 25 percent was from Asia.
In 2009, over half of the foreign-born workers from Mexico and Central America did not have a high school diploma or GED credential, as compared with just 6 percent of native-born workers. In contrast, nearly half of the foreign-born workers from places other than Mexico and Central America had at least a bachelors degree, as compared with 35 percent of native-born workers.
Over time, participants in the U.S. labor force from Mexico and Central America have become more educated. In 2009, they had completed an average of 9.8 years of schooling up from 9.5 years in 2004; 55 percent lacked a high school diploma or GED credential down from 59 percent in 2004; and among 16- to 24-year-olds, 50 percent were not in school and were not high school graduates down from 60 percent in 2004. Nevertheless, those born in Mexico and Central America are constituting an increasingly large share of the least educated portions of the labor force. For example, in 2009 they made up 64 percent of labor force participants with at most an 8th grade education a figure that was 58 percent in 2004.
To a considerable extent, educational attainment determines the role of foreign-born workers in the labor market. In 2009, 70 percent of workers born in Mexico and Central America were employed in occupations that have minimal educational requirements, such as construction laborer and dishwasher; only 23 percent of native-born workers held such jobs. On average, the weekly earnings of men from Mexico and Central America who worked full time were just over half those of native-born men; women from Mexico and Central America earned about three-fifths of the average weekly earnings of native-born women.
Foreign-born workers who came to the United States from places other than Mexico and Central America were employed in a much broader range of occupations. They were more than twice as likely as native-born workers to be in fields such as computer and mathematical sciences, which generally require at least a college education. Their average weekly earnings were similar to those of native-born men and women.
The information on immigration in this report comes from the Current Population Survey, a survey of U.S. households conducted monthly by the Census Bureau. The survey asks respondents where they and their parents were born. Those who were born in another country are asked when they came to the United States to stay and if they have become a U.S. citizen by naturalization. They are not asked about their legal immigration status.