76% of Immigrant Led Households with Kids Receive Welfare


About 15 years ago, a family I knew wanted to immigrate to the United States but met with some resistance from the US government. Customs and Immigration insisted that the family had a way of financially supporting themselves once they moved here. They were told that the government didn’t want them to rely on any form of welfare. Once the father provided them with documentation that he had a nice paying job waiting for them, they next insisted that the job not be something that an American citizen could do, in other words they didn’t want him taking a job away from a US citizen. This man was one of the world’s top experts in his narrow field of science so he passed that requirement. Then Customs and Immigration told him that it would take between 5 to 7 years before he and his family would be allowed to immigrate because they were coming from a former communist country. The family ended up immigrating to Canada and working for someone else.

Evidently, things have changed as hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of immigrants are being allowed to immigrate into the US without means to adequately provide for their own needs, at least that’s the way it appears due to a recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies. In their report they summarize their findings:

  • In 2012, 51 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) reported that they used at least one welfare program during the year, compared to 30 percent of native households. Welfare in this study includes Medicaid and cash, food, and housing programs.

  • Welfare use is high for both new arrivals and well-established immigrants. Of households headed by immigrants who have been in the country for more than two decades, 48 percent access welfare.

  • No single program explains immigrants’ higher overall welfare use. For example, not counting subsidized school lunch, welfare use is still 46 percent for immigrants and 28 percent for natives. Not counting Medicaid, welfare use is 44 percent for immigrants and 26 percent for natives.

  • Immigrant households have much higher use of food programs (40 percent vs. 22 percent for natives) and Medicaid (42 percent vs. 23 percent). Immigrant use of cash programs is somewhat higher than natives (12 percent vs. 10 percent) and use of housing programs is similar to natives.

  • Welfare use varies among immigrant groups. Households headed by immigrants from Central America and Mexico (73 percent), the Caribbean (51 percent), and Africa (48 percent) have the highest overall welfare use. Those from East Asia (32 percent), Europe (26 percent), and South Asia (17 percent) have the lowest.

  • Many immigrants struggle to support their children, and a large share of welfare is received on behalf of U.S.-born children. However, even immigrant households without children have significantly higher welfare use than native households without children — 30 percent vs. 20 percent.

  • The welfare system is designed to help low-income workers, especially those with children, and this describes many immigrant households. In 2012, 51 percent of immigrant households with one or more workers accessed one or more welfare programs, as did 28 percent of working native households.

  • The large share of immigrants with low levels of education and resulting low incomes partly explains their high use rates. In 2012, 76 percent of households headed by an immigrant who had not graduated high school used one or more welfare programs, as did 63 percent of households headed by an immigrant with only a high school education.

  • The high rates of immigrant welfare use are not entirely explained by their lower education levels. Households headed by college-educated immigrants have significantly higher welfare use than households headed by college-educated natives — 26 percent vs. 13 percent.

  • In the four top immigrant-receiving states, use of welfare by immigrant households is significantly higher than that of native households: California (55 percent vs. 30 percent), New York (59 percent vs. 33 percent), Texas (57 percent vs. 34 percent), and Florida (42 percent vs. 28 percent).

  • Illegal immigrants are included in the SIPP. In a forthcoming report, we will estimate welfare use for immigrants by legal status. However, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of immigrant households using welfare are headed by legal immigrants.

  • Most new legal immigrants are barred from welfare programs when they first arrive, and illegal immigrants are barred as well. But the ban applies to only some programs; most legal immigrants have been in the country long enough to qualify for at least some programs and the bar often does not apply to children; states often provide welfare to new immigrants on their own; naturalizing makes immigrants eligible for all programs; and, most important, immigrants (including illegal immigrants) can receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children who are awarded U.S. citizenship at birth.

  • The heavy use of welfare by less-educated immigrants has three important policy implications: 1) prior research indicates that illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly less-educated, so allowing them to stay in the country creates significant welfare costs; 2) by admitting large numbers of less-educated immigrants to join their relatives, the legal immigration system brings in many immigrants who are likely to access the welfare system; and 3) proposals to allow in more less-educated immigrants to fill low-wage jobs would create significant welfare costs.

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Additionally their report stated:

“Households with Children. Figure 3 reports welfare use for immigrant and native households with children. Not surprisingly, welfare use is much higher for households with children than for all households as shown in Figure 1 and Table 1. The nation’s welfare system is specifically designed to help households with children. Programs like WIC, free/subsidized lunch, and Medicaid for children (referred to as the Children’s Health Insurance Program) were explicitly created for those under age 18. TANF, formerly called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, is also designed to help low-income children and their families. Other welfare programs benefit children as well.”

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The bottom line is that millions of people are immigrating to the US legally and illegally that ends up costing US taxpayers. At the high rates revealed in this study, we need to ask ourselves how much more can taxpayers afford to pay for the dreams of others when so many of us aren’t able to live our own dreams?

Just consider the fact that it would take every American, from 1 day old on to their death, to pay $56,503 to pay off our national debt. For a family of four, their part of the national debt adds up to $226,012. How many of you have a quarter of a million dollars lying around that they would be willing to give to the government?

We can’t pay our own way in the country and I don’t think we should be forced to pay the way for others coming here, legally or illegally. Most of us work hard for what we have and it’s only fair to expect immigrants to do likewise.

Reading a report like this reminds me of some words of wisdom concerning welfare written over 230 years ago by the venerable Benjamin Franklin:

“In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries that the more the public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world where so many provision are established for them (as in England); so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many almshouses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful? And do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burden? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, but giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness.”

“In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase in poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. Saint Monday and Saint Tuesday will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, thought one on the oldest commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.” [The Real Benjamin Franklin: Part II: Timeless Treasures from Benjamin Franklin, Prepared by W. Cleon Skousen and M. Richard Maxfield.  National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2008, Pp 453-4.]

America desperately needs to revamp its immigration and welfare policies to force people to take responsibility for themselves. As Franklin so aptly stated, it will increase industry and thus make America more prosperous for all, including the poor. However, we first need to replace our current political leaders with men and women who really care about America and will make the hard decisions necessary to put us back on the right track.

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