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Inflation Pinching Cambodians in US, Too

With the US economy worsening, inflation and the price of gasoline have hit Cambodians living in the US. The pinch is obvious in Lowell, Mass., where Cambodians have numerous businesses, jobs and now financial woes.

Businesses are foundering in Lowell, as industries are moving to other states or overseas to reduce costs, said Kong Sengly, an official at the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association. That has put many Cambodian workers out of a job.

"At the moment, many manufacturing companies have move to other states in the South that have low taxes, and some others have moved to neighboring countries," he said recently. "So at this point, it has strongly affected the Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans."

The loss of jobs has also met with high inflation, making living conditions difficult for Cambodians living in Lowell, said Ou Sovann, a member of the Education Program for Migrants.

"Actually, as I always meet with friends or people here, they always complain a lot about their living condition while the inflation and the gasoline hikes that have hit their lives," Ou Sovann said. "As you know the price of the groceries are going up double or more. For example, one chicken cost only 50 cents before [about 2,000 riel], but now it is four or five dollars for one chicken."

The 35,000 Cambodians living in Lowell make up about 10 percent of the town's population. Many of them run businesses and restaurants, tourism companies, law firms, salons and grocery stores. Cambodians here also work in manufacturing, in electronics, computer supply, military supply and garment factories.

The streets of Lowell are quiet, and many here work two or three jobs, or they work overtime to earn more money to pay their mortgages, car payment, daily food, electricity, insurance and other utilities.

Most people in America are paying mortgages to buy a house or land, so that people in America do not have a lot of free time. Meanwhile, a mortgage crisis in the US has meant that many people with low incomes have been forced to forfeit their homes to the bank.

About 600 homes in Lowell had been forfeited, Kong Sengly said.

"When they first borrow the money from the bank, they were told that it is not a problem, in the next two or three years you can borrow money with low interest to pay it back," he said.

Sophea David, a former film and karaoke actor, run Kampuchea Video in Lowell.

He made a good income when he first began running his story, from 2002 to 2005, but in recent years, his income has decreased.

"Many people are cutting out their entertainment, because people's incomes cannot afford it anymore," he said. "They only spend it on something that is more important, such and food, gasoline and stuff."