Thirteen years after welfare reform in the U.S., 57% of immigrant-headed households (legal and illegal) with a child are using at least one welfare program, according to a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The reason for this is partly due to the large share of immigrants with low levels of education and their resulting low incomes — not their legal status or an unwillingness to work, the report reveals.
Based on the latest data available, from 2009, the share of immigrant households with children relying on one or more welfare program is 18% higher than native households with children. Among the report's other major findings:
1. 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.
2. A large share of the welfare used by immigrant households with children is received on behalf of U.S.-born citizen children. But even households with children that were comprised entirely of immigrants (i.e., all the children were born abroad) still had a welfare use rate of 56%.
3. Households with children with the highest rates of welfare use are those headed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic (82%), and Mexico and Guatemala (75%). Those with the lowest use rates are from the United Kingdom (7%), India (19%), Canada (23%and Korea (25%).
4. The states where immigrant households with children have the highest welfare use rates are Arizona (62%); Texas, California, and New York (61%); Pennsylvania (59%); Minnesota, and Oregon (56%); and Colorado (55%).
The Center estimates that 52% of households with children headed by legal immigrants used at least one welfare program in 2009, compared to 71% for illegal immigrant households with children. (Illegal immigrants generally receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children.)
The CIS argues the report can serve as a measure of the impact immigrants have on American society and whether or not they are creating a net fiscal burden for the country. Welfare programs comprise a significant share of federal, and even state, expenditures. Total costs for the programs examined in the CIS study were $517 billion in fiscal year 2008. Moreover, those who receive welfare tend to pay little or no income tax. The group argues however, that the report also sheds light on how we treat immigrants who are legally admitted to the country, such as welfare eligibility, citizenship requirements, and assimilation efforts.
The CIS concludes, "Accessing welfare programs can be seen as an indication that immigrants are having a difficult time in the United States. Or perhaps that some immigrants are assimilating into the welfare system. Thus, welfare use is both a good way of measuring immigration’s impact on American society and immigrants’ adaptation to life in the United States."
The major welfare programs examined in the CIS research include 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, public housing, and rent subsidies.