NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 24, 2007

One immigration myth that has become a key talking point among restrictionists is that immigrants come to the United States for a life of ease on the public dole, says the Wall Street Journal.

The "welfare" charge is refuted by the experience of the federal welfare reform passed 11 years ago, says the Journal:

  • Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of immigrant households collecting traditional cash welfare payments, supplemental security income and food stamps fell by about half.
  • The decline in welfare use was more rapid for immigrants than for native-born Americans.
  • The exception has been Medicaid, thanks to states that have increased immigrant eligibility for the state-federal program in recent years.

However, immigrants have a positive financial impact on the most expensive federal entitlements, says the Journal:

  • Some 70 percent of immigrants are in the prime working ages of 20 to 54, compared to only half of the native-born American population; only 2 percent of immigrants are over age 65 when they arrive, compared to 12 percent of natives.
  • As a result, most immigrants contribute payroll taxes for decades before they collect Social Security or Medicare benefits.
  • The Social Security actuaries recently calculated that over the next 75 years immigrant workers will pay some $5 trillion more in payroll taxes than they will receive in Social Security benefits.
  • These surplus payments more than offset the costs of use of other welfare benefits received by most immigrant groups.

There's no doubt that immigrants draw on public resources, like the roads and the schools, says the Journal.  But even immigrants who don't own homes, and thus don't pay property taxes, finance public schools indirectly through rents paid to landlords. As for health care and roads, immigrants who receive paychecks have their income taxes withheld, and they also pay sales tax and other levies like everyone else.

Source: Editorial, "Immigration and Welfare," Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2007.

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