Immigration reforms that increase the number of low-skilled workers entering the United States threaten to impose a high cost on taxpayers, says a study being released today.
The Heritage Foundation report calculates that for every $1 unskilled workers pay in taxes they receive about $3 in government benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, public housing and other welfare programs.
The report on low-skilled workers, who are defined as those without a high school diploma, did not focus on immigrants, but its authors say 25 percent of legal immigrants and 50 percent of illegal aliens fall into the category. About 9 percent of native-born Americans lack a high school diploma.
Using data from 2004, the report shows the average household headed by a low-skilled worker paid $9,689 in taxes but received $32,138 in benefits a year. The more than $22,000 difference is the “tax burden” which rises to $1.1 million over the worker’s lifetime.
Mr. Bush has called for legalizing the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States, and for a new program to allow more foreign workers in the future.
Chief among the critics is Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, who hailed the study.
“The Heritage Foundation report proves what we already know, that illegal immigration is a drain to the American people,” the California Republican said. “At more than $22,000 a year, it’s like having the American taxpayers buy everyone who doesn’t have a high school diploma a brand new Ford Mustang convertible.”
Eric Rodriguez, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, said studies frequently overlook significant contributions immigrants make to the economy.
“A lot of the more recent studies we’ve seen show that more undocumented workers are contributing to Social Security and they will never be eligible for Social Security benefits,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “A lot of that tends not to be captured by these types of studies.”
[Editor’s Note: The compete text of “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Households to the U.S. Taxpayer,” by Robert E. Rector, Christine Kim and Shanea Watkins, Ph.D., with charts and notes, can be read on-line here.]