Robert Rector Responds to The Wall Street Journal

by Robert Rector
Posted: 05/25/2007

To the Editor:

Your May 24 editorial attacks my research on the fiscal costs of low skill immigration as perpetuating a "myth". Roughly one third of immigrant households are now headed by immigrants without a high school degree. My research, based on Census data and other government sources, shows these "low skill immigrant" households receive, on average, $30,160 per year in government benefits while paying $10,573 in taxes. Thus each such household costs the taxpayer $19,588 per year. Overall, the net cost to U.S. taxpayers is $89 billion per year. My report suggests that the country would benefit fiscally by having fewer low skill immigrants, who are net tax consumers, and more well educated immigrants who are net tax payers.

How does your editorial refute this finding? By changing the subject. Rather than rebut my contention that low skill immigrants are a fiscal drag, it presents statistics about how much all immigrants, including college graduates, pay in taxes. Far from refuting my study, this tactic is either misleading or, at best, irrelevant. It certainly does not demonstrate that low skill immigrants pay more in taxes than they take in benefits.

The editorial also asserts, contrary to the manifest facts, that low skill immigrants do not receive large amounts of means-tested welfare assistance. It claims that one major "flaw" in my analysis is that I count immigrants as receiving welfare despite the fact that most "are not eligible". Immigrants do have limited eligibility for welfare, which is why my report counts the welfare received by immigrant households based on the immigrants' self-report of welfare receipt to the Census Bureau. If an immigrant household states it got Food Stamps, it is counted as receiving Food Stamps. It is that simple.

As my report explicitly states, this procedure "automatically adjusts for the low use of government benefits by ...immigrants," due to eligibility limits. Unless immigrants are over-reporting their own welfare benefits, one finds that low skill immigrant households receive about $10,000 per year in means-tested welfare throughout their lifetimes. This figure does not include other major benefits such as public education, Social Security, and Medicare.

By changing the subject and thus failing to engage the facts, your editorial obscures the real fiscal impact of low-skill immigration.

Robert E. Rector
Senior Research Fellow
The Heritage Foundation