Two studies by the Center for Immigration Studies suggested immigrant households use welfare at a significantly higher rate than other households. Some of its key findings were undermined in recent months.
Last year CIS boasted a study that it claimed was the first in recent years to compare immigrants’ use of welfare programs with other residents. It cited statistics from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and claimed immigrants use welfare at “significantly higher levels.”
The study by CIS included the use of food, housing and cash programs and Medicaid. It said in 2012, 51 percent of households that were headed by an immigrant – either legal or undocumented – used these programs compared to 30 percent of native households.
Writing in Immigration Daily, Walter Ewing, a Senior Researcher at the American Immigration Council, questioned the report and a subsequent one by the conservative non-profit.
He wrote that the biggest shortcoming of both of the reports was the way they tallied the public benefits utilized by children who were born in the United States as costs incurred by the “immigrant-headed households” of which they are an integral part. However, when those children reached the age of 18 they were counted as “natives.”
Ewing pointed out that all children are costly. They tend to cost more when they are younger because they use more educational and health providers. However, as adults, they pay back in the form of taxes.
“So it is disingenuous to count them as a ‘cost of immigration’ one minute, and then as native-born taxpayers the next minute,” wrote Ewing.
Last year, the Cato Institute took the CIS to task over its findings. As well as the issue with children, it pointed to a major problem that is inherent in counting households rather than individuals, namely that immigrants and natives have different sized households.
The American Community Survey found that households comprising immigrants have on average 3.37 people in them compared to just 2.5 people in native-born households. The Cato Institute said this fact alone would have a bearing on welfare use because immigrant households are larger. CIS had failed to correct its analysis for family size.
The failure of CIS to take into account income disparities among the U.S. population is a further shortcoming of the research. Instead of comparing the use of public benefits of low-income immigrants and low-income members of the native population, CIS compared use rates of all immigrants and all natives including wealthy people who don’t claim benefits.
It skews the results because, according to research from George Washington University, low-income immigrants use the public benefits system less than U.S. born low-income families.
It’s worth noting that while lower-income immigrants may use the benefits system, many studies show immigrants start some of America’s most successful companies, amounting to 51 percent of recent start-ups valued at over $1 billion.
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