In better times, the money Martimiano Pineda wired back to Purechucho from roofing jobs in Florida coated his dirt floor with cement and paid for a home computer. Now, as the subprime mortgage crisis slows housing construction in the U.S., Pineda, 40, struggles to find work and can barely send enough money to his family in Mexico to buy the yogurt meant to help his 5-year-old son grow up strong, reports.

The U.S. slowdown is compounding poverty in rural Mexico as jobless migrants struggle to pay for rent and groceries, let alone send money home.

The money Mexican migrants in the U.S. send home, known as remittances, nearly tripled over four years to $23.7 billion in 2006, but rose only 1% last year and fell slightly in the first three months of 2008, according to Mexico's central bank. Experts say tougher anti-immigration measures in some states have also made it harder for migrants to send back money. In a recent poll of 5,000 Latin Americans living in the U.S. by the Inter-American Development Bank, or IADB, 81% said it was harder to get a well-paying job than a year ago. Only half were regularly sending money home, compared with 73% in a 2006 survey.

Affording the Bare Necessities

Mexico accounts for more than half of all remittances from the U.S., and they represent Mexico's biggest source of foreign earnings after oil. The country's rural poor, who rely on the wire transfers for basic consumption, are reeling from the drop. "For the families who are receiving this money, it can [be] around a third of household income," says Robert Meins, an IADB remittance expert. "It's that third that helps many stay above the poverty line."

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