The Corner

Importing a Dependent Class

I’m sure Ramesh is right that there isn’t a simplistic connection between receipt of government benefits and voting Democratic, partly because of the blue-collar white voters James Bennett identifies who are net beneficiaries, but whose goal is to become net payers — people who have an experience of not being dependent and who want to return to it.

But what about people whose only experience of the United States involves welfare? As my colleague Steve Camarota has demonstrated in great detail, newcomers to our country, because they’re almost intentionally selected for poverty and lack of education, make much heavier use of welfare than the native-born. He shows (see Table 12) that 36 percent of households headed by a foreign-born person use a means-tested program (cash assistance, food assistance, subsidized housing, and/or Medicaid), compared to 23 percent of natives. Among immigrants from Latin America, the share on welfare is 51 percent. And fully 57 percent of households headed by a Mexican immigrant use welfare.

Immigrants and their young children accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the uninsured population over the past decade, and about half of all immigrants and their young children either have no insurance or have it provided to them by taxpayers through Medicaid. Immigrants and their young children account for 30 percent of U.S. residents without health insurance and 24 percent of all people in or near poverty.

And this isn’t because they’re recent arrivals; even though the share in or near poverty is a little bit lower for established immigrants compared to recent arrivals, the share on welfare goes up over time (see Figure 6).

The point is not that immigrants are here to rip us off; very few of them likely planned to be in this situation. But the continued importation of 1.1 million people a year, a disproportionate share of whom start life in America as dependents of the state, does indeed create a growing clientele for big government. Abolishing the welfare state is not going to happen, regardless of who wins. But reducing legal immigration, ensuring that a larger share of those who do come are self-supporting, and more conscientiously enforcing the law to limit illegal immigration are relatively easy in comparison. Anyone who bemoans the growth of a dependent class but doesn’t include among his proposed changes cuts in immigration is fooling himself, and fooling you.