The Corner

How Much Welfare Spending Does the Average Immigrant Household Consume?

U.S. immigration policy is an irrational hodgepodge put together without the best interests of Americans in mind. This should already be obvious, but today we have even more evidence.

Some quick background: Mark Krikorian wrote here last fall about a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report showing that 51 percent of immigrant-headed households receive some form of means-tested benefits — cash, food, Medicaid, or housing subsidies — compared to 30 percent of native households. As innovative as that report was — it used a superior dataset compared to the prior literature — it focused only on the rate of welfare participation, not the costs. Over the past few months, I worked with CIS to quantify those costs, and the results are out today.

The average immigrant household consumes about $6,200 in welfare spending, 41 percent higher than the $4,400 consumed by natives. Immigrant households consume 33 percent more cash welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more Medicaid dollars than the average native household. Housing costs are roughly the same for both groups.

The usual reaction to numbers like these is to debate their economic importance. How does this impact the deficit? Do the costs change over time? Do immigrants do better or worse than comparably skilled natives? All of these questions are important, and they are discussed in the report linked above. There is a broader point here, however. It is difficult to imagine sitting down to craft an immigration policy that will benefit the American people and coming up with one in which immigrants consume more welfare than natives. It’s a strong indication that current policy is not working.

Though they have their problems, Canada’s and Australia’s immigration “points systems” have always appealed to me because they force policymakers to explicitly identify the goals of immigration policy and how to weight them. In designing such a system, would we really want to give extra points for going on welfare?

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