Teach Them to Fish
[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: