Faltering U.S. economy slows immigration

WESTLAKE DISTRICT, Calif. About half a million immigrants came to the U.S. last year, but that's less than a third of the number who arrived in 2006. Experts say our sagging economy means life in the U.S. isn't as promising as it used to be.

There is a saying about the economic link between the U.S. and other countries: "When the U.S. gets a cold, Latin America gets pneumonia." Conditions are terrible in countries south of the border, yet many people are now saying, better to wait it out at home than try to survive in the U.S.

At Discomania, in the heavily Latino Westlake District of Los Angeles, they are begging for customers. The clients who used to buy CDs and send money to Mexico don't have the dollars and don't have the jobs.

"It is hard for them to find a job," said Turin Hernandez, who works at Discomania. "They are also saying they're getting less hours. Instead of 40 hours, they are getting 25 or 30 hours a week."

The news about less work is rippling to Mexico, according to Nancy Sidhu at the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation.

"Nope, fewer opportunities here. You will have to try somewhere else, or wait," said Sidhu.

According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, immigration has slowed. From 1.8 million in 2006 to a half-million in 2007. That includes both legal and illegal immigrants.

Yet the number of immigrants stands at an all-time high -- 37 million - 12 percent of the U.S. population.

In Los Angeles, there is an especially large concentration of immigrants because of ties to Asia and Latin America.

In the metro area, the number of foreign-born residents went up by nearly 25,000 in 2005. In 2006 the number went up by 56,000, nearly double.

The explanation: Many immigrants use L.A. as a launch point to other jobs outside the county. But with work drying up, many are staying with family or friends who are employed here.

"They are all living at the margin, and so when you double up, you save a little on the housing bills, but there are still other bills that will have to be paid," said Sidhu.

The crackdown on illegal immigration is another factor in this equation. Still, the immigrant community remains very optimistic, hoping for a turnaround after the presidential election.


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