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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







Importing Poverty:

Immigration and the

Growth of America's Poor Population

Steven A. Camarota
September 2, 1999

Press Release*


WASHINGTON (September 2, 1999) President Clinton's recent trip through poverty-stricken areas highlighted the continuing problem of poverty in America. While a number of explanations have been offered for why the nation's long-term poverty rate and the number of people in poverty have remained persistently high, the primary cause has been little studied until now. A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies finds that immigration accounts for the vast majority of the growth in poverty over the last 20 years.

The study, entitled Importing Poverty: Immigration's Impact on the Size and Growth of the Poor Population in the United States by the Center's Director of Research, Steven Camarota, finds that if immigrant households are excluded, both the number of people in poverty and the nation's overall poverty rate would have changed little over the past two decades.

Among the findings:

  • The number of people in immigrant households living in poverty tripled from 2.7 million in 1979 to 7.7 million in 1997.
  • Between 1979 and 1997, immigrant households increased their representation in the U.S. population by 68 percent -- but over the same period, their share of the total poor population increased 123 percent.
  • The growth in immigrant-related poverty accounted for 75 percent or 3 million of the total increase in the size of the poor population between 1989 and 1997. This increase more than offsets the 2.7 million reduction in the size of the poor population that results from the $64 billion spent annually on means-tested cash assistance programs.

"Americans may disagree over the best way to address poverty," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center. "But there can be no doubt that ongoing immigration is diverting scarce public and private resources that are needed to help the poor already here, native-born and immigrant, improve their circumstances. Dr. Camarota's findings that immigrants are increasingly likely to be poor, and are accounting for a growing share of our total poor population, should be disturbing to anyone concerned about the plight of America's poor and the future of our republic."

Among other findings in the new report:

  • The poverty rate for persons living in immigrant households grew dramatically from 15.5 percent in 1979, to 18.8 percent in 1989, to 21.8 percent in 1997. Over the same period the poverty rate for persons in native households stayed almost constant at roughly 12 percent. As a result, the gap between immigrant and native poverty has almost tripled in 20 years.
  • The gap between the poverty rates for persons in immigrant and native households widened in every region of the country and in almost every major metropolitan area during the 1990s.
  • The higher poverty rate associated with immigrants is primarily explained by their lower levels of education, higher unemployment, and larger family size.

Factors Not Contributing to Immigrant Poverty

  • The denial of benefits to many legal immigrants enacted as part of the 1996 welfare reform legislation does not seem to have caused the rise in immigrant poverty. Immigrant poverty was increasing well before 1996 and the gap between immigrants and natives has actually narrowed slightly since welfare reform was enacted.
  • Although their poverty rate is high, illegal aliens comprise only an estimated 22.5 percent of persons in poverty living in immigrant households.

Who Cares?

By dramatically increasing poverty, current immigration policy has profound long-term consequences for the quality of life in the United States and kind of society we live in. In concrete terms, increasing the number of the poor through immigration makes it more difficult to the help the poor already here, while at the same time negatively affecting the tax base.

What's more, children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be involved in illicit activity, have higher teenage pregnancy rates, exhibit lower academic achievement, and suffer from a host of other social problems. More subtly, social science research indicates that with more poverty comes less trust, greater suspicion of others, and more social distance.

Policy Implications

If current immigration policy remains in place, an estimated 10 million new immigrants are likely to settle permanently in the United States in the next decade alone, and the number of persons in immigrant households in poverty will grow 40 percent to reach 11 million by 2010.

To prevent this situation from continuing into the indefinite future, the United States requires an immigration policy which admits far fewer unskilled immigrants and an immigrant policy which actively seeks to help immigrants already here to escape the poverty so many find themselves in.

[MFS note: also see Roy Beck Chapters 8 & 9.]
* Courtesy of the Center for Immigration Studies
See original at < www. cis.com/cis_importing_poverty_report.htm >.
From the "Press Release", September 2, 1999
Center for Immigration Studies
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director
1522 K Street N.W., Suite 820
Washington, DC 20005

Importing Poverty Executive Summary
Report: Importing Poverty
Importing Poverty" Endnotes, References, and List of Tables & Figures

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