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.

  • Luke Lea

    In theory open borders with Mexico, like free trade with China, redistributes income from labor to capital. Thus the people whose incomes derive from capital wealth (whether in their educated brains or in stocks, bonds, and other investment assets) should be able to subsidize the wages of those hurt by trade and immigration, making everyone better off than before. At least that’s what they claim. (In actuality this argument only works for trade — still it is business interests that encourage low-skilled immigration — so they should be taxed.)

    BTW, I notice today that 45 percent of American taxpayer owe no income tax whatsoever. How does that break down by immigrant status? It seems more than likely that a majority of low-skilled immigrants are in that category. But how big a majority? Wouldn’t this be grounds for Tea Party opposition to more low-skilled immigration? I think so.

  • jvanke

    Welfare consumption, incl EITC, is one way to divide the stayers from the deported, if we ever came to that bridge. Of course, Medicaid comes into play. Which is yet another reason to have a regulated privately provided basic health care plan that all insurers must provide with no price discrimination except age.

    If current illegals had access to such a basic plan (unsubsidized), and could live here on 3-year temporary work / residence visas without taking one cent in welfare & equivalents, green-card ’em on a two-year fast-track to citizenship (with a some English requirements thrown in).

  • Buck Slade

    You wrote: “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.”

    That would make it workfare. Regardless of the label, it is a transfer payment like welfare, corporate subsidies and food stamps. Morally, taking money from one person and giving it to another – at gun point – is all the same.