Thursday, August 9, 2012

Immigration + Welfare = Bad News

By Mark Krikorian

Robert Rector’s piece today on Obama’s latest unconstitutional usurpation — this time, ending welfare reform as we know it — reminded me of the central role immigration played in the original debate in Congress over welfare reform in 1995–96. (For young people who don’t remember, “Congress” used to be the place where laws were debated and passed, back before it assumed the role of the Roman Senate under Diocletian.) The claim at the time was that close to half the projected savings from welfare reform would come from the limits on legal immigrants’ access to taxpayer-funded benefits.

While welfare reform overall was a great success, the projections regarding immigrants didn’t pan out. The immediate reasons for the failure of the immigrant portion of welfare reform were laid out by George Borjas: Immigrant-heavy states picked up the slack by extending benefits to immigrants, and the immigrant groups most dependent on welfare before the reform saw the largest increases in naturalization rates (enabling them to escape the welfare restrictions specific to non-citizens).

Also, the longstanding requirement that immigrants not be admitted in the first place if they’re “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” (known as the “public charge” doctrine) has been gutted in a way that’s almost comical. According to the immigration service, “non-cash or special purpose cash benefits” are not considered when determining whether an immigrant has become a public charge. That means an immigrant family could be living in public housing, receiving food stamps, on Medicaid, and having their children eat three free meals a day at school and they wouldn’t be considered “primarily dependent” on the government!

But even if we entered Bizarro World, where we are able to enforce all the limitations people have proposed on immigrant access to welfare, it still wouldn’t eliminate the problem. A new, detailed profile of the immigration population by my colleague Steve Camarota suggests why this must necessarily be the case if we continue mass immigration, no matter what prophylactic measures we take. The basic problem is that in a modern, post-industrial, knowledge-intensive economy, people with low levels of education (who will always account for the bulk of any large-scale immigration flow) just can’t earn enough money to provide for themselves and their children, no matter how many jobs they hold down. As Steve writes:

Nor does the relatively high use of welfare programs reflect a lack of work on the part of immigrants. In 2010, 84.2 percent of immigrant households had at least one worker, compared to 75.8 percent of native households. Work in no way precludes welfare use, particularly use of the non-cash programs.

And non-cash programs are the whole game — Medicaid alone costs more than all other welfare, cash and non-cash, combined. In fact, the whole point of our welfare system is to support the working poor who have children — which is a pretty good description of our immigrant population.

You can read the numbers for yourself, but here are a few: Of households headed by a Mexican immigrant, 57 percent use at least one welfare program; the number is 50 percent for Central Americans. On the other hand, welfare use for immigrants from India is 14 percent, and it’s 19 percent for Filipinos. (Even those numbers are kind of disturbing.) This doesn’t mean Indians and Filipinos are better than Mexicans or Salvadorans, just that the ones who come here are more educated, thus they earn more and are less likely to need or qualify for welfare. That said, even at any given level of education, immigrants make heavier use of taxpayer-funded benefits: Nine percent of households headed by a native-born college graduate use welfare, as opposed to more than 16 percent of households headed by an immigrant college graduate.

As Milton Friedman said, “it’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.” An immigration maximalist might respond that we therefore need to get rid of the welfare state. Let me know when you succeed — in the meantime, the sooner we curb mass immigration the better.


A Profile of the U.S. Foreign-Born Population‏

Study Finds Poverty & Welfare Common among Immigrants; Many Longtime Immigrant Residents Still Struggling

 A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies uses Census Bureau data from 2010 and 2011 to provide a detailed picture of the nation’s immigrant population (legal and illegal) by country of birth, state, and legal status.

A key finding is that immigration has dramatically increased the size of the nation’s low-income population. In general, immigrants make significant progress the longer they live in the country. But even with this progress, immigrants who have been in the country for 20 years are still much more likely to be poor, lack health insurance, and access the welfare system than native-born Americans. The large share of immigrants with little education partly explains this phenomenon.

“There is considerable concern about issues like poverty and the large uninsured population. But what has generally not been acknowledged is the impact of immigration on these problems,” notes Steven Camarota, the Center’s Director of Research. “Absent a change in policy, 11 to 15 million new immigrants are likely to settle in this country in the next decade and may exacerbate present problems.”

The study can be found  here. Press releases specific to the top immigrant receiving states can be found here

Among the study’s findings:

* Immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) account for one-fourth of all persons in poverty and nearly one-third of the population lacking health insurance.

* In 2010, 36 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one major welfare program (primarily food assistance and Medicaid) compared to 23 percent of native households.

* Of immigrant households with children 57 percent accessed one or more welfare programs, compared to 40 percent of native households with children.

* The high rates of poverty, uninsurance and welfare use are not due to an unwillingness to work. The share of working-age immigrants (18 to 65) holding a job in 2011 was the same as natives — 68 percent. Immigrant men actually have higher rates of work than native-born men.

* The primary reason for high immigrant poverty and welfare use is the large share of immigrants who arrived as adults with relatively little education.

* Of adult immigrants (25 to 65), 28 percent have not completed high school, compared to 7 percent of natives. The share of immigrants (25 to 65) with at least a bachelor’s degree is somewhat lower than that of natives — 29 vs. 33 percent.

* Among the top states of immigrant settlement, immigrants tend to be the poorest and least educated in Arizona, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, and California. Immigrants tend to be the most educated and prosperous in Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts.

* There is a very significant variation across sending-countries and regions. Immigrants from East Asia, India and Europe tend to be the most educated and have the highest incomes, while those from Mexico and Latin American tend to be the least-educated and have the lowest incomes.

* Many immigrants make significant progress the longer they live in the country. However, as a group, immigrants who have lived in the United States for 20 years have not come close to closing the gap with natives.

* The poverty rate of adult immigrants who have lived in the United States for 20 years is 50 percent higher than that of adult natives.

* The share of adult immigrants who have lived in the United States for 20 years who lack health insurance is twice that of adult natives.

* The share of households headed by an immigrant who has lived in the United States for 20 years using one or more welfare programs is nearly twice that of native-headed households.

* The share of households headed by an immigrant who has lived in the United States for 20 years that are owner occupied is 22 percent lower than that of native households.

* Most immigrants are not recent arrivals. Nearly two-thirds have been in the United States for more than 10 years and their average length of residence in the U.S. is 19 years.

* There are 10.4 million students from immigrant households in public schools, accounting for one in five public school students.

* Overall, one in four public school students now speaks a language other than English at home.

* Of immigrant households, 53 percent are owner-occupied, compared to 68 percent of native households.

* In 2010, 13 percent of immigrant households were overcrowded, compared to 2 percent of native households. Immigrant households account for half of all overcrowded households.

* Immigrants and natives have very similar rates of entrepreneurship — 11.7 percent of natives and 11.5 percent of immigrants are self-employed.

Illegal immigrants.

Our best estimate is that 28 percent of the nation’s immigrants are in the country illegally. Illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) account for 5 percent of the nation’s overall population, 10 percent those in poverty, 15 percent of the uninsured and 7 percent of the school age population.

Data Source:

The data for this paper come primarily from the public-use files of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) and the March 2011 Current Population Survey (CPS). In some cases, for state-specific information, we combine the March 2010 and 2011 CPS to get statistically robust results.

In this report, the terms foreign-born and immigrant are used synonymously. Immigrants are persons living in the United States who were not American citizens at birth. This includes naturalized American citizens, legal permanent residents (green card holders), illegal immigrants, and people on long-term temporary visas such as foreign students or guest workers.

The above is a press release from from Center for Immigration Studies. 1522 K St. NW, Suite 820,  Washington, DC 20005, (202) 466-8185 fax: (202) 466-8076.  Email: CONTACTS: Marguerite Telford, Steven Camarota (202) 466-8185

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution which examines the impact of immigration on the United States.  The Center for Immigration Studies is not affiliated with any other organization

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