Don’t Watch This!

Warning–NSFK: At the end of this panel discussion on immigration and welfare, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies stumps me by asking this question: “Isn’t it a failure of policy to have any immigrants on welfare?”–even if the “welfare” in question is only the Earned Income Tax Credit that’s available only to workers. My answer is best left unviewed–Not Safe for Kaus.*  Worse, I’m still not sure what my answer is. I guess it is no, you can’t consider a policy a failure because it lets in one, two, or twenty thousand full time workers who earn wages low enough to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Those people are some of our best neighbors and fellow citizens.** On the other hand, a) you can’t have a society filled entirely with full-time workers who qualify for the EITC, because then there will be nobody rich enough to pay the taxes necessary to, among other things, fund the EITC. And b) since unskilled Americans have seen their wages stagnate in recent decades (a big reason we need the EITC in the first place) sound immigration policy would avoid letting in a lot of workers who compete with the unskilled workers already here. Unfortunately’ that’s not our immigration policy now, and Krikorian is right to suggest the level of “welfare” (and EITC) use is a yardstick for the skills of the workers we let in. If it’s too high, we’re letting in too many unskilled. …

 P.S.: Of course unchecked unskilled immigration would also make it more or less impossible to sustain either an adequate minimum wage or an Earned Income Tax Credit that would “make work pay” at the lowest wage levels. …

P.P.S.: Krikorian unveiled his organization’s report on immigration and welfare with a discussion that included opponents of his approach. Does, say, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offer its critics the same kind of forum?


*–The transcript is slightly less painful.

**–I qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit once myself. I took it, if I recall right. It’s not “welfare” in my book, because you have to work to get it.