Immigrant households have higher usage rates of welfare than native households, report finds

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Households headed by immigrants have a substantially higher rate of welfare use than native-headed households, according a report released by the Center for Immigration Studies this week.

The report examined census data about the use of welfare programs – cash assistance, food assistance, housing assistance, and Medicaid – and compared usage by immigrant headed households with at least one child – those headed both by legal and illegal immigrants – with usage by native headed households with at least one child. 57 percent of immigrant headed households participate in at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent of native headed households. Immigrant usage of food assistance programs and Medicaid are particularly higher – whereas for cash assistance and housing assistance programs, usage rates by immigrant and native households are virtually identical.

Immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Ecuador have the highest rates of usage of welfare programs, while immigrants from the United Kingdom have the lowest, along with immigrants from India, Canada and Korea.

A major indicator of welfare use, according to the report, is education. 80.4 percent of households headed by an immigrant whose education does not exceed high school are enrolled in at least one welfare program. The number is similarly high for households headed by a native with that level of education – 76.3 percent of those households use some kind of welfare program.

The magnitude is different, however. According to the report, 31.9 percent of immigrant households with children are headed by someone who did not finish high school, compared to just 8.9 percent of native headed households – which contributes to the high rate of welfare use among immigrant headed households.

This does not entirely explain higher levels of immigrant welfare use. Comparing immigrant and native households headed by someone with more education shows that at those levels of education, welfare use is still higher by immigrant households.

As the report points out several times, the high rates of welfare usage by immigrant headed households “are not the result of less-educated legal immigrants’ unwillingness to work.” In fact, in 2009, 95.1 percent of immigrant headed households had at least one worker. Rather, more use welfare because less education usually leads to lower income, and the welfare system in the United States is specifically set up to help low income families with children.