National Data | Flash! We Are Still Importing Poverty And Other Economic Woes
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Census Bureau figures for 2003 show incomes stagnated, poverty was up, and the uninsured population reached a record high. [Source: Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003," August 2004.] This occurred despite an economic recovery now in its third year. 

The Bush Administration responded by saying, in effect, "Wait till next year," when the recent spurt of job creation and new health insurance legislation will be reflected in the data. Perhaps. But the numbers already in hand show that U.S. immigration policy has weakened this recovery and puts future gains at risk. It is increasingly clear that uncontrolled immigration is damaging the economic position of  native-born US workers.

Rising numbers of immigrants combined with the growing disparity between the economic performance of natives and foreign-born exacerbated the drop for every major indicator in 2003.

Take median household income, for example. In 2003:

  • Income of native households rose $135, or 0.3 percent


  • Income of naturalized citizen households fell $422, or 0.9 percent


  • Income of non-citizen households fell $1,852, or 5.6 percent

The last bullet is particularly troubling as it reflects the circumstances of the most recent—and fastest growing—immigrant group.

The percent of the population living in poverty rose to 12.5 percent in 2003, up from 12.1 percent the year before. This was the third straight year of higher poverty rates. Once again, recent immigrants are driving the deterioration:

  • The poverty rate among foreign-born U.S. residents who are not citizens was 21.7 percent in 2003


  • The poverty rate among U.S.-born persons was 11.8 percent

While immigrants account for about 12 percent of the U.S. population, more than one-quarter (26.3 percent) of the persons added to the poverty rolls in 2003 were immigrants. Had the immigrant poor grown at the same rate as the native poor, 167,000 fewer persons would have been poor in 2003, and the national poverty rate would be 0.5 percent lower.

Nowhere is the disparity greater than in health insurance coverage. In 2003:


  • 45.3 percent of non-citizen immigrants lacked coverage


  • Only 13.0 percent of natives lacked coverage

Health insurance is not generally regarded as an immigration issue because native workers are losing coverage rapidly, and are, quite reasonably, complaining bitterly about it. But uninsured natives are overwhelmingly low-income workers. Curbing the flood of unskilled immigrants would ease the pressure on low-income natives—and mitigate the rise in their poverty and un-insurance rates.

Furthermore, reducing the volume of unskilled and uninsured immigrants would cut the quantity of bad debt caused by medical facilities being forced to treat the uninsured. This would reduce their need to seek reimbursement by overcharging anyone who does have insurance, slow the surge in health costs being met by insurance plans, and reduce the need for employers to cut coverage, or try to eliminate it entirely. This vicious circle of cost-shifting and consequent coverage reduction is arguably the heaviest blow mass immigration strikes at middle class Americans.

U.S. immigration policy, by facilitating the influx of low-wage, non-citizen workers, is making matters far worse.

[Number fans click here for tables.]

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

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