Posted on May 9, 2016

The Cost of Welfare Use by Immigrant and Native Households

Jason Richwine, Center for Immigration Studies, May 9, 2016

The Center for Immigration Studies today released a new study on cost of immigrant welfare use. It finds that the average household headed by an immigrant used more than $6,200 in welfare benefits in 2012–41 percent more than a native household, when cash, food, Medicaid, and housing programs are considered together. This follows up on an earlier report that looked at the rate of welfare use, which found that 51 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one welfare program.

“Immigrants are such heavy users of welfare not because they don’t work, but because, on average, they have little education and thus earn low wages,” said Mark Krikorian, the Center’s executive director. “If we continue to permit large numbers of less-educated people to move here from abroad, we have to accept that there will be huge and ongoing costs to taxpayers.”

Using 2012 data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), a more complex and comprehensive dataset than typically employed by researchers, the report attributes the large difference in usage between immigrant and native-headed households to immigrant demographics: Just as natives with low levels of education and large numbers of children are apt to consume welfare, immigrants with those same characteristics tend to consume a large amount of welfare as well.

View the report here.

Among the findings:

• The average household headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) costs taxpayers $6,234 in federal welfare benefits, which is 41 percent higher than the $4,431 received by the average native household.

• The average immigrant household consumes 33 percent more cash welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more Medicaid dollars than the average native household. Housing costs are about the same for both groups.

• At $8,251, households headed by immigrants from Central America and Mexico have the highest welfare costs of any sending region — 86 percent higher than the costs of native households.

• Illegal immigrant households cost an average of $5,692 (driven largely by the presence of U.S.‐born children), while legal immigrant households cost $6,378.

• The greater consumption of welfare dollars by immigrants can be explained in large part by their lower level of education and larger number of children compared to natives. Over 24 percent of immigrant households are headed by a high school dropout, compared to just 8 percent of native households. In addition, 13 percent of immigrant households have three or more children, vs. just 6 percent of native households.

[Editor’s Note: The full report, available at the original article link below, includes the section below about race.]

Race and Ethnicity. Regardless of nativity, households headed by blacks or Hispanics consume more welfare dollars on average than households headed by whites or Asians. However, Table 7 shows some interesting immigrant-native differences within racial groups. Immigrant households headed by blacks and Hispanics cost less than their native counterparts, while white- and Asian-headed immigrant households cost more. Despite the lower cost among immigrant Hispanics compared to native Hispanics, a much larger proportion of immigrant households are headed by Hispanics, which contributes to the greater overall cost difference between immigrants and natives.