TX: Study Finds High Welfare Use by Immigrants

Apr 05, 2011, 08:57 ET from Center for Immigration Studies

61 Percent of TX Immigrant Households with Children Use Welfare

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Census Bureau data show that the share of immigrant-headed households (legal and illegal) with children (under age 18) using at least one welfare program continues to be very high both in Texas and the nation as a whole.  This is partly due to the large share of immigrants with low levels of education and their resulting low incomes.  The welfare programs examined in this report are SSI (Supplemental Security Income for low income elderly and disabled), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children food program), free/reduced school lunch, food stamps, Medicaid (health insurance for those with low incomes), public housing, and rent subsidies.  

The entire report, "Welfare Use by Immigrant Households with Children: A Look at Cash, Medicaid, Housing, and Food Programs," is available at the Center for Immigration Studies' web site: http://cis.org/immigrant-welfare-use-2011.

Among the findings:

  • The latest data available from 2009 show that in Texas 61 percent of households with children (under 18) headed by an immigrant (legal and illegal) used at least one welfare program, compared to 42 percent for native households with children in the state.
  • The overall use rate for welfare by Texas immigrant households with children (61 percent), is one of the highest in the nation.  
  • In Texas, immigrant households with children tend to use food assistance programs and Medicaid at much higher rates than native households with children.  Use of cash and housing programs tends to be similar to natives.
  • The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that in Texas, 54 percent of households with children headed by legal immigrants used at least one welfare program, compared to 70 percent for illegal immigrant households with children. Illegal immigrants generally receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children.  
  • Illegal immigrant households with children primarily use food assistance and Medicaid, making little cash or housing assistance. In contrast, legal immigrant households tend to have relatively high use rates for every type of program.
  • The states where overall welfare use by immigrant households with children (legal and illegal) have the highest welfare use rates are Arizona (62 percent); Texas, California, and New York (61 percent); Pennsylvania (59 percent); Minnesota and Oregon (56 percent); and Colorado (55 percent).
  • For United States as a whole, 57 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal and illegal) with children (under 18) used at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent for native households with children.
  • The vast majority (95 percent) of immigrant households with children in the United States had at least one worker in 2009. But the low education levels of a large share of immigrant and their resulting low incomes mean that more than half of these working immigrant households with children still accessed the welfare system during 2009.
  • Most new legal immigrants are barred from using some welfare for the first five years.  But, this provision has only a modest impact on household use rates because most immigrants have been in the country longer than five years; the ban applies only to some programs; some states provide welfare to new immigrants on their own; by naturalizing, immigrants become eligible for all programs; and most important, the U.S.-born children of immigrants (including those of illegal immigrants) are American citizens, and are eligible for all programs at birth.

Policy Discussion: Most immigrants come to the United States to work.  In fact, immigrant households with children in the United States are somewhat more likely to have at least one worker than native households with children. However, the relatively low education level of many immigrants means that a majority of working immigrant households still access the welfare system, particularly non-cash programs.  About one-third of immigrant households with children are headed by someone who has not graduated high school, compared to one out of ten native households.  This means giving businesses access to large numbers of less-educated workers can come at a significant cost to taxpayers.

The argument that newly-arrived legal immigrants or illegal immigrants are barred from most programs can be misleading.  It does not reflect the way the welfare system actually works, especially non-cash programs. It is also a mistake to compare today's immigrants with those from 100 years ago during the last great immigration wave, when such programs did not exist.  Our discussion of this issue should reflect the fact that some spending on welfare is a part of every advanced industrial democracy, including our own. Trying to bar immigrants and their children from using welfare after they have arrived is practically very difficult and of questionable fairness.  If we are concerned about this problem, it would make more sense to select immigrants in the future who are less likely to need taxpayer assistance in providing for their children.  Moving to a system that selects immigrants based on their education levels would be one way of doing this.  

Data Source: Data for this analysis for the national figures from the March 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS) collected by the Census Bureau, also referred to as the Annual Social and Economic Supplement.   For state level analysis figures are a combined average from the 2009 and 2009 March CPS.   All welfare figures are based on self-reporting in the CPS.  This report uses the term "immigrant" to mean all persons in the country who were not U.S. citizens at birth.  Unless otherwise indicated, it includes legal and illegal immigrants.   The Census Bureau refers to these individuals as "foreign born."  Most research on immigrant welfare use has focused on households because eligibility for welfare is based on total family or household income, not individual income.  As a National Research Council report on the subject observed, "the household is the primary unit through which public services are consumed."  

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution and is not affiliated with any other organization.

Contact: Steve Camarota, +1-202-466-8185, sac@cis.org

SOURCE Center for Immigration Studies