Here’s what it looks like on a chart:
Note that most of the postwar poverty decline occurred before Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” came on stream. Indeed, progress against poverty came to a grinding halt just as anti-poverty programs were expanding at a record pace and the economy was booming.Why? No-one seems to know. True believers on the right blame the poverty programs themselves. In their view perverse incentives embedded in Great Society programs eroded the need for the unemployed to find work and for the near-poor to avoid poverty: people made themselves poor to qualify for the means-tested goodies. Other explanations include technological change—fewer low-skilled workers are needed.Needless to say, what Peter Brimelow called in Alien Nation the “immigration dimension” is invariably ignored in conventional discourse. But it is must be huge. In the five years prior to 1965 the number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status averaged 284,000 per year. In the subsequent five years, this legal immigration averaged 359,000 per year; by the 1990s an average 980,000 new legal permanent residents were admitted annually.As quantity increased, quality declined. The newest immigrants in 1960 were better educated than the native-born; by end of the 20th Century the newest arrivals had almost two fewer years of education. [George Borjas, The Top Ten Symptoms of Immigration, CIS, November 1999]In 1960 the average immigrant male actually earned about 4% more than the average native-born male. By 1998, after admission standards had been dropped, the average immigrant man earned about 23% less.Immigration increases the poverty rate in two ways: firstly, it increases labor market competition, tending to lower wages and displace American-born workers, forcing more of them into poverty; secondly, many immigrants are simply poor—the U.S. is literally importing poverty.
Only since 1993 has the Census Bureau recorded yearly changes in the nativity of the U.S. poverty population. The immigrant share of that population has risen significantly since then:
From 1993 to 2010, the foreign-born share of America’s poor went from 13.2% to 17.0%—an increase of 29 percentage points. Thereafter, the foreign-born share fell to 16.4% in 2011, as the recession pushed natives into poverty at even greater rates than immigrants.The twenty-year trend, however, is obvious and ominous.Of course, a full accounting should add the native-born children of immigrants living in poverty. First generation immigrants and their minor children comprise about a quarter of all poor persons in the United States.Data for 2011 show that the poverty rate for recent (non-citizen) arrivals is nearly twice that of natives:
|Poverty Rate ofNative-born Adults, 2010|
|Data source: CIS, 2012.|