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Migrant Women Reveal Resilience in Coping with Recession

Update Date: Apr 13, 2012 06:36 PM EDT

Unexpectedly migrant women show resilience in their ability to control their environment through work.

One could expect migrants to be affected with global recession, but they were reported to cope with recession capably in at least one Central Illinois county, according to a new study from University of Illinois.

"Women appear to be more flexible and resourceful. When they lose their jobs, they start looking for other options," said Gale Summerfield, U of I community development and gender specialist.

"They took jobs in child care, cleaning houses and businesses, and cooking, jobs with less overhead. Men tended to look for jobs in gardening and auto mechanics that require tools. They didn't see cooking, cleaning or babysitting as a man's job," he added.

The study drew from 20 in-depth interviews with migrant men and women in Central Illinois. Many originally settled in Illinois because of relatives and friends who were already working there and stated that they came to Central Illinois because they found it peaceful and a good place to raise children.

Illinois is the largest recipient state for transnational migrants in the Midwest, and the number of migrants from Latin America to the area has been growing over the last decade. Migrants comprised 42 percent of the 1.96 million Latinas/os in the state in 2009.

"It was somewhat surprising to find that respondents stated repeatedly that women were better at coping with the recession through their self-employment because they could 'sell tamales or clean houses,'" noted graduate research assistant Paola León.

U of I economist Mary Arends-Kuenning said that the area of the Midwest in which the interviews were conducted lies outside of the traditional metropolitan areas and has not been as hard hit by the economic crisis as Chicago. 

Although none of those interviewed had applied for unemployment, they mentioned an inability to access the benefits. Those who did qualify for unemployment benefits could not maintain their benefit because they lack the language skills to report through an automated service every week. 

Arends-Kuenning suggested that the Department of Labor could improve their service by adding the most commonly spoken languages in the state of Illinois to their automated phone service.

"Exploring Latina/o Migrants' Adaptation to the Economic Crisis in the U.S. Heartland: A Capability Approach" will be published in the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. 

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