LONDON — For more than a decade, Flavius Tudor has shared the money he has made in England with his mother in Romania, regularly sending home cash that enabled her to buy medicine.
Last month, the flow reversed. His 82-year-old mother sent him money so he could pay his bills.
Suffering a high fever and a persistent cough amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Tudor, 52, could no longer enter the nursing home where he worked as a caregiver. So his mother reached into her pension, earned from a lifetime as a librarian in one of Europe’s poorest countries, and sent cash to her son in one of the wealthiest lands on earth.
“It’s very tough times,” he said. “I’m lost.”
Around the globe, the pandemic has jeopardized a vital artery of finance supporting hundreds of millions of families — so-called remittances sent home from wealthy countries by migrant workers. As the coronavirus has sent economies into lockdown, sowing joblessness, people accustomed to taking care of relatives at home have lost their paychecks, forcing some to depend on those who have depended on them.
Last year, migrant workers sent home a record $554 billion, more than three times the amount of development aid dispensed by wealthy countries, according to the World Bank. But those remittances are likely to plunge by one-fifth this year, representing the most severe contraction in history.
The drop amounts to a catastrophe, heightening the near-certainty that the pandemic will produce the first global increase in poverty since the Asian financial crisis of 1998. Some 40 million to 60 million people are expected this year to fall into extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as living on $1.90 a day or less.
Diminishing remittances are both an outgrowth of the crisis gripping the world and a portent of more trouble ahead. Developing countries account for 60 percent of the world economy on the basis of purchasing power, according to the International Monetary Fund. Less spending in poorer nations spells less economic growth for the world.
Like the pandemic that has delivered it, the slide in remittances is global. Europe and Central Asia are expected to suffer a fall of nearly 28 percent in the wages sent home from other countries, while sub-Saharan Africa sees a drop of 23 percent. South Asia appears set for a 22 percent decline, while the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean could absorb a reduction of more than 19 percent.
Overall, the pandemic has damaged the earning power of 164 million migrant workers who support at least 800 million relatives in less affluent countries, according to an estimate from the United Nations Network on Migration.
“We are talking about a staggering number of people who are benefiting from these remittances,” said Dilip Ratha, lead economist on migration and remittances at the World Bank in Washington.
Venturing overseas for work is laced with danger, exposing migrant workers to dishonest recruitment agents, exploitative employers, and the physical perils of manual labor. It is also a singularly effective means of upward mobility.
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