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Thursday, September 09, 2010

"Illegal immigration: What's the real cost to taxpayers?"

Here's a follow-up to the post on immigration and Social Security:

Illegal immigration: What's the real cost to taxpayers?, by Edward Schumacher-Matos, Commentary, Washington Post: In 1909, at the height of the last great immigration wave, when immigrants reached a peak of almost 15 percent of the U.S. population, they made up about half of all public welfare recipients. ... In the country's 30 largest cities, meanwhile, more than half of all public school students were the children of immigrants. ...
This history is forgotten in the angry debate over the cost to taxpayers of unauthorized immigrants and their children today. My recent column reporting that unauthorized immigrants were making unexpectedly large contributions to Social Security, for example, led to denunciations that I was being misleading by not looking at the total fiscal picture.
The truth is that unauthorized immigrants are probably a net burden on taxpayers in the short term, but only if you consider education as a cost and not as an investment in the nation's future, as it was seen a century ago. ...
Any fiscal look ... has to be placed in the context of overall economic contribution. Economists overwhelmingly agree that the unauthorized contribute to the nation's economic growth..., though wages for unskilled workers suffer. None of this is to say that we should allow illegal immigration. As Milton Friedman once noted, you can't have open borders and hope to maintain generous government benefits for your citizens. ...
But you ask: What is the fiscal balance, anyway? No one knows..., no definitive study has been done. ... The most insightful study remains one done by the National Research Council in 1997. ... The study found that an immigrant high school dropout -- which characterizes nearly half of today's unauthorized people -- received $89,000 more in services than he paid in taxes in his life. But an immigrant with at least some college -- a quarter of today's unauthorized -- gave $105,000 more than he got. For the high school graduates left, those who arrived during their teens or earlier were slightly profitable for the government, while the children of those who arrived later paid off the small deficit of their parents. ...
A tough federal law passed in 1996 has since cut almost all benefits to unauthorized immigrants. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates forcing out immigrants here illegally, acknowledged that the average undocumented household in 2002 received fully 46 percent less in federal benefits than an American one. But this likely would go up with legalization.
So, the main question may be: Are they deserving? Look around you at the people whose European-born ancestors were on the dole and overcrowding schools a century ago. You decide.

    Posted by on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 06:18 PM in Economics, Immigration | Permalink  Comments (35)


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