Posted on July 2, 2007

Spinning The Real Costs Of Illegals

Robert Rector, Real Clear Politics, June 27, 2007

Monday’s column from the Administration’s Karl Zinsmeister and Edward Lazear (“Lead Weight or Gold Mine: What are the True Costs of Immigration?” June 25, RCP) is a study in misdirection and misstatement. Since they devote much of their piece to attacking my research, I’d like to set the record straight.


* Low-skill individuals (i.e., those without a high school degree) receive far more in benefits and services than they pay in taxes.

* The net fiscal cost of the families headed by low-skill immigrants is not markedly different from the cost of families headed by low-skill non-immigrants.

* Low-skill immigrants receive, on average, three dollars in government benefits for each dollar of taxes paid. This imbalance generates a net cost of $89 billion per year on U.S. taxpayers. Over a lifetime the typical low-skill immigrant household costs taxpayers $1.2 million dollars.

* Immigrants are disproportionately low-skilled. One-third of all immigrants and more than half (50 to 60 percent) of illegal immigrants lack a high school degree.

* In contrast to low- and moderate-skill immigrants, immigrants with college education will pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

My conclusion: Immigration policy should seek to increase the number of high-skill immigrants entering the country and sharply decrease the number of low-skill, fiscally dependent immigrants.

Future taxpayer costs will only rise under policies that increase the number of low-skill immigrants entering the U.S., their length of stay in the country, or their access to government benefits and services. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Senate immigration bill does. The cost of amnesty alone will reach $2.6 trillion once the recipients reach retirement age.

To defend this exorbitantly expensive legislation, Zinsmeister and Lazear must resort to inaccurate or misleading assertions. For example, they claim that, under the Senate immigration bill, amnesty recipients will receive little or no welfare.


Moreover, the initial limitation on receipt of means-tested welfare will have only a small effect on governmental costs. The average adult amnesty recipient can be expected to live more than 50 years after receiving his Z visa. Most, then will be fully eligible for welfare during the last 35 to 40 years of their lives. And use of welfare during these years will be heavy.


The column falsely asserts that “low-skill immigrants are actually comparatively self-sufficient compared to low skill native households.” Actually, wages, tax payments, and reliance on welfare are quite similar for the two groups. Low-skill non-immigrants differ from immigrants primarily because they are more likely to be elderly and therefore less likely to be employed.


The descendents of immigrant dropouts do not become net tax contributors until the third generation. This means that the net fiscal impact of low-skill immigrants will remain negative for 50 to 60 years after their arrival in the U.S.