Teach Them to Fish

Today, the ProJo delves into a report published last week by the Center for Immigration Studies:

[T}he survey, based on U.S. Census data, found that immigration to Rhode Island increased by 61 percent between 2000 and 2007 and that immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up 17.7 percent of the state’s population. By contrast, that segment of the population totaled 17.4 percent in Massachusetts; 15.9 percent in Connecticut; 5.8 percent in Vermont; 7.8 percent in New Hampshire and 3.1 percent in Maine.

The ProJo doesn’t put that number in context nationally, however. Rhode Island’s 17.7 percent immigrant+children rate is also the 10th highest nationally, behind California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, respectively. These are all either big or border states or both. (Also, Rhode Island’s immigrant-only population rate comprises 13.3% of the total, which ranks 12th nationally). So how does little Rhode Island find itself amongst these heavy hitters? Services and the safety net, perhaps? As one example, here is the percent of all Rhode Island births to immigrants from 1995 to 2005, including whether private insurance or Medicaid was used:

Source: Rhode Island DHS report Health Indicators for Rhode Island

Since 2000, 35-40% of all births in Rhode Island have been to immigrant women on Medicaid.
*Note: Neither the CIS study nor the DHS data differentiates between illegal and legal immigrants, the the CIS reports that 1 in 3 of all immigrants are illegal.
The ProJo asked William Shuey of the International Institute of Rhode Island about the findings:

[C]ritics of immigrants overstate the extent to which immigrants use welfare and other state-financed programs. Shuey also said that the economic impact of immigrants is not a drag on the state’s economy.
“A lot of this is just scapegoating a group that is vulnerable,” said Shuey. “It is easy to beat up on these people because they are politically powerless. If you take the long view, you’ll find that over 20 years immigrants are as likely as natives to own a house, have a steady job, be good citizens.”

Generally, the CIS report seems to counter Mr. Shuey’s claim. For instance, included in the report are numerous tables and figures that show the extent to which recent immigrants are less educated and more likely to remain in poverty and rely on social welfare programs than before. (See the extended entry for a select list of some of the findings).
And there is a distinction to be made between the immigrants of yore and today. Our immigrant ancestors relied on each other, not the government, for help as they made their new lives. This is not some romanticized version of the past: there was no government-provided safety net. Operating without a net provided an incentive to achieve but some fell through the cracks. As a moral society, we chose to provide a safety net for them. Unfortunately, for too many, landing and staying in the safety net has become the definition of the American way of life.
As Justin writes, there are indeed expectations bound up in all of this, on both sides. The expectations of those subsidizing the safety net are that, eventually, newcomers to our country should be able to take advantage of the opportunities our nation provides and become self-sufficient. To paraphrase, we’ll give them some fish while they learn to fish for themselves. But only for so long.

Here are some of the findings of the CIS study:

  • 31 percent [of adult immigrants] have not completed high school
  • The proportion of immigrant-headed households using at least one major welfare program is 33 percent, compared to 19 percent for native households.
  • The poverty rate for immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) is 17 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than the rate for natives and their children.
  • 34 percent of immigrants lack health insurance, compared to 13 percent of natives. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for 71 percent of the increase in the uninsured since 1989.
  • Immigrants make significant progress over time. But even those who have been here for 20 years are more likely to be in poverty, lack insurance, or use welfare than are natives.
  • The primary reason for the high rates of immigrant poverty, lack of health insurance, and welfare use is their low education levels, not their legal status or an unwillingness to work.
  • There is a worker present in 78 percent of immigrant households using at least one welfare program.
  • Immigration accounts for virtually all of the national increase in public school enrollment over the last two decades. In 2007, there were 10.8 million school-age children from immigrant families in the United States.
  • Recent immigration has had no significant impact on the nation’s age structure. Without the 10.3 million post-2000 immigrants, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36.5 years.
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    16 years ago

    I agree that new immigrants should not come to this country to rely on the goverment. It is unfortunate that politicians provide that incentive.
    But what really irks me is the number of white non-hispanic/non-asian and black non-hispanic/non-asian born-in-the-USA-losers who ride around on RIPTA for free, collect welfare and ride ambulances to detox and spend their “up-time” panhandling and who knows what else for spare change.
    There is a very good probability that the cambodian or hispanic woman with the 7 kids in the Hasbro emergency room has a day job and a husband who is probably not there because he’s working one of the two or three, perhaps not legal, but honest and productive jobs that he has. As long as we make it easy for them to come here and make a better life for themselves and their families, lets save our criticism and our fight for those who truly abuse the system and rest of us.

    Marc Comtois
    16 years ago

    George, If you’ve read the blog regularly, you know that we don’t give the natives a pass! Also, here is much longer and comprehensive post on immigration.

    16 years ago

    There is an argument that demographics will fix the illegal immigration problem. The generation now in the mid-20s was very picky about what they would do and could be because there weren’t all that many of them. Therefore you had a lot of jobs Americans wouldn’t do and couldn’t do (because of lack of numbers). We’ll see about that, because the next age cohorts have expectations inherited in part from their older brothers and sisters….
    In my neighborhood, from lawn care to roofing, I’ve seen a lot of immigrants diligently working in manual labor jobs. I paid 75% of my way through Brown (’68-’73) putting on roofing and siding. Today, that might be more like 40%, but it sure beats Starbucks and Barnes and Noble income. But given that a lot of these jobs are demanding and some are dangerous, even if the kid is OK with that, Mom and Dad might not be.

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