Welfare
National Data | And The Winner Is... Dominican Immigrants Top The Welfare Dependency League Table! (Again)!
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July 01, 2018, 09:39 PM
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Earlier by Edwin S. Rubenstein And the Immigrant Welfare Winner Is…,August 27, 2003

copsbustthugsJohn Derbyshire just pointed out that if you import Dominicans into the Bronx, you eventually turn the Bronx into the Dominican Republic. As it happens, I just updated my league table ranking immigrant welfare dependency. The winner: Dominicans…again.

Absurdly, and contrary to libertarian fantasy, immigrants have long been more addicted to welfare than native-born Americans. Fifteen years ago I reported  that the 1996 immigration law had failed to end this scandal. Bill Clinton’s reforms prohibited immigrants who entered the U.S. after August 22, 1996 from receiving most types of public assistance, but that same law decreed the ban would vanish when the immigrant became an American citizen. Remember that on July 4 when you read the usual cloying accounts of mass swearing-in ceremonies.

Using data for 2002, latest available at that time, we ranked countries of origin on the welfare dependency rates of their U.S. immigrants. (Note that federal data does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants).

  • First place: Immigrants from the Dominican Republic! Nearly three in five(58.7%) Dominican immigrant households received at least one means-tested program in 2002.
  • Runner-up: Immigrants from Mexico!Over one in three (35.7%) Mexican immigrant households are on welfare. About a quarter (24.9%) of illegal Mexican immigrants receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children.
  • Dead last: less than one in thirteen (7.3%) immigrant households from Canada receive benefits.

That was 2002--the post-911 era of slow growth and recession. The most recent recipiency data available today is for 2015. What has happened?

Over that period, the economic status of immigrants strengthened, both absolutely and relative to native-born Americans. In 2002 the immigrant unemployment rate (6.4%) was above that of native-born Americans (5.6%); by 2015 they switched places, with immigrant unemployment averaging 4.9% versus 5.4% for native-born.

The poverty rate for native-born Americans in 2015, 13.1%, is significantly above the 2002 rate, 11.5%. By contrast, the immigrant poverty rate in 2015, 16.6%, was unchanged from 2002. Many illegal aliens went home during the worst of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, suppressing poverty rates for those who remained here.

So, other things equal, immigrant welfare recipiency should have declined relative to that of native-born over this period.

But no such luck. As seen in the table below, average welfare dependency rose by 73.1% for immigrants as compared to 65.0% for native-born Americans (a group, remember, that includes troubled minorities. Welfare dependency for American whites: 21%.)

welfare

cisAnd, once again, the averages mask wide variations among individual countries-of origin. The most efficient way of spotting these trends is to view immigrant recipiency rates for individual countries side-by-side. The table below ranks countries on the share of immigrants that received welfare benefits in 2015.

 

 Welfare Usage by Country of Origin

of Household Head, 2002 and 2015

(Percent receiving benefits; Ranked on 2015 recipiency rates)

 

Change, 2002-2015

Country

2002

2015

% points

%

Dominican Republic

58.7%

70.1%

11.4

19.4%

Honduras

29.9%

61.1%

31.2

104.3%

Mexico

35.7%

60.3%

24.6

68.9%

El Salvador

30.1%

59.5%

29.4

97.7%

Guatemala

28.2%

56.8%

28.6

101.4%

Ukraine

25.0%

53.7%

28.7

114.8%

Ecuador

27.8%

50.6%

22.8

82.0%

Peru

NA

43.7%

NA

NA

Cuba

35.3%

43.5%

8.2

23.2%

Haiti

32.6%

43.2%

10.6

32.5%

All Immigrants

24.5%

42.4%

17.9

73.1%

Vietnam

30.9%

42.0%

11.1

35.9%

Jamaica

19.3%

38.8%

19.5

101.0%

Colombia

28.4%

34.5%

6.1

21.5%

Pakistan

25.8%

34.1%

8.3

32.2%

China

NA

32.9%

NA

NA

Brazil

NA

30.3%

NA

NA

Russia

31.1%

29.9%

-1.2

-3.9%

Iran

23.1%

29.0%

5.9

25.5%

Korea

20.9%

27.6%

6.7

32.1%

All Natives

16.3%

26.9%

10.6

65.0%

Poland

11.1%

25.9%

14.8

133.3%

Philippines

15.5%

25.7%

10.2

65.8%

United Kingdom

9.2%

16.5%

7.3

79.3%

India

10.2%

15.9%

5.7

55.9%

Canada

7.1%

13.8%

6.7

94.4%

Japan

8.0%

13.4%

5.4

67.5%

Germany

7.3%

9.6%

2.3

31.5%

Note: Major means-tested programs include TANF, SSI, state general assistance, Food Stamps (SNAP), school lunch, WIC, and public housing.

Data source: Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Immigrants in the United States: a profile of the foreign-born using 2014 and 2015 Census Bureau Data, Center for Immigration Studies, October 2016. (2015.)

  • First place—then and now: Immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

More than seven out of ten (70.1%) Dominican immigrant households received at least one means-tested program in 2015. Dominicans’ grip or first place is less crushing now, however. Their recipiency rate “lead” over second place Honduras is 9 percentage points; in 2002 they led second place Mexico by 23 percentage points. So the “laggards” have narrowed the dependency gap.

  • Runner-upImmigrants from Honduras!

Three of every five (61.1%) Honduran immigrant households were on  welfare in 2015. Unaccompanied children have contributed to a doubling of the Honduran welfare rate since 2002—and the worst may be yet to come: About 80% of the Caravan clamoring for admission at the southern border were Hondurans. (That's a Honduran flag at right.)

  • Second Runner-up: Immigrants from Mexico. At 60.3%, households headed by Mexican immigrants are more than twice as likely to receive welfare than households headed by native-born Americans, a group that includes minorities.
  • Dead last: less than one in ten (9.6%) of immigrant households from Germany receive benefits. Germany is the only country of origin with a sub-10% recipiency rate in 2015.

Welfare dependency rates more than doubled for immigrants from five countries: Poland (+133.3%); Ukraine (+114.8%); Honduras (+104.3%); Guatemala (101.4%); and Jamaica (101.0%.) Refugees are immediately entitled to welfare, and this may explain the dependency explosion among Ukrainian and Honduran households. Even after 20 years, refugees are still more likely to be on welfare than either native-born Americans or other immigrants.

Fifteen years ago, we blamed the above-average welfare dependency of Russian and Vietnamese households on refugees. Since then the refugee influx from both countries has dwindled—to less than 100 per year in the case of Vietnam. But dependency rates for Vietnamese households continue rising—from 30.9% in 2002 to 42.0% in 2015—while rates for Russian immigrants fell from 31.1% to 29.9% over this period.

Russians, in fact, were the only immigrant group that was less dependent on welfare in 2015 than in 2002. Are they role models for other immigrants? Or did they simply not succeed in achieving the access to welfare that many (most?) immigrants apparently clamor for?

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants.