During Hispanic Heritage Month, we take the time to reflect upon the many contributions that the Hispanic population has made to our country – a population of which a significant percentage is foreign-born. About one-third (34.9%) of U.S. Hispanics are immigrants, and like their native-born counterparts, they have greatly enriched the culture and economy of the United States.
Immigrants are a vital part of our growing economy, and Americans understand this. A strong majority (73%) of Americans recognize the positive impact that immigrants have on our economy, and think that immigration is a good thing for our country today. However, a vocal minority of Americans rejects this proposal, believing instead that that immigrants are a burden on our country by disproportionately drawing public assistance. A recent report from the Center for Immigration Studies claims to prove this misconception, concluding from their study that immigrants use welfare programs at a much higher rate than that of native-born Americans. In reality, it is increasingly clear that these numbers present an inaccurate picture. Hispanics – Hispanic immigrants included – contribute so much to our country, and during Hispanic Heritage Month, we need to recognize these contributions, instead of pushing forward misleading narratives that downplay the successes of the Hispanic American community.
Several prominent think tanks have picked apart CIS’s conclusion, pointing out multiple flaws in methodology. Firstly, the study in question fails to correct for disparities in income – it compares the entire population of native-born Americans with the entire foreign-born population, when statistically the immigrant population on average has a lower income. Instead, the study should compare like with like, and should compare usage rates of poor immigrants with that of poor natives. The study also measures the welfare usage of households instead of individuals, which likely leads to an inflated reported usage rate because this indicator potentially includes non-immigrant household members. The study only measures the rate of usage, instead of the cash value of welfare used, meaning that an immigrant drawing $1 of benefits could hypothetically be counted the same as a native-born citizen drawing $100. Finally, the study also fails to account for usage of Medicare and Social Security, which are not only two of the largest programs in the welfare state, but are also used disproportionately by native-born, older Americans. All of these factors combined have likely distorted the results, and in fact, past studies have shown that poor immigrants actually take welfare at a lower rate than that of poor native-born citizens.
If one looks at the facts, immigrants provide a net benefit to our society, and their hard work helps all members of our population achieve their own American Dream. Firstly, if we are examining public assistance usage, it is also worth mentioning that two of our biggest welfare programs, Medicare and Social Security, are primarily used by native-born, older Americans, and are overwhelmingly paid for by today’s active workers. Hispanic immigrants, who in 2014 accounted for 48.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force, have a Labor Force Participation rate of 68.9 percent, and so are more than paying their share.
Secondly, increased Hispanic immigration will likely contribute to a rise in employment for our entire country. Hispanics are exceedingly hardworking, and Latinos as a group are expected to account for more than 40 percent of the increase in U.S. employment over the next five years. Increased immigration could lead to more jobs for everyone, with the study showing that even non-Hispanic employment will be almost 1 million greater under a higher-immigration scenario. Higher employment not only leads to less dependence on welfare programs, but it also strengthens the economy as a whole.
Overall, during Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize that native-born and immigrant Hispanics alike bring different skills, a hardworking mentality, and a drive to achieve their goals that should not be overlooked. During this month, many large organizations across America are publicly recognizing how their Hispanic employees and supporters bring a different and valuable perspective to both their work and the culture of their organizations. Policymakers, too, must strive to understand the many positive effects of immigration, and should embrace the potential benefit that immigrants can provide to our country.