More than 6 of 10 non-U.S. citizen households get welfare

by Dr. Eowyn

new study by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) found that, in spite of “barriers designed to prevent welfare use” by non-citizens, as many as 63% of non-U.S. citizen households in America have received some form of government welfare “often receiving benefits on behalf of U.S.-born children.”

In contrast, only 35% of U.S. citizen households accessed welfare.

Non-citizens include:

  • Illegal aliens, who make up about half of America’s non-citizen population.
  • Permanent residents (green card holders) who have not naturalized.
  • Long-term temporary visitors, e.g. guestworkers and foreign students.

Methodology: For the study, CIS employed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 (and newest-available) Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) — a longitudinal (i.e., followed over several years) dataset of nationally representative samples of U.S. households. Welfare use is based on self-reporting, which means there is some misreporting. Given the human propensity to lie in one’s self-interest, that suggests the actual percentage of non-citizen households on welfare is likely higher than 63%.

Here are the findings:

  1. In 2014, 63% of households headed by a non-citizen reported that they used at least one welfare program, compared to 35% of native-headed households.
  2. The percentages of non-citizen vs. citizen households on welfare for the top four states are:
    • California: 72% vs. 35%.
    • Texas: 69% vs. 35%.
    • New York: 53% vs. 38%.
    • Florida: 56% vs. 35%.
  3. No single program explains non-citizens’ higher overall welfare use:
    • Food programs: 45% of non-citizen households vs. 21% of citizen households.
    • Medicard: 50% of non-citizen households vs. 23% of citizen households.
    • Cash welfare, including Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): 31% of non-citizen households vs. 19% of citizen households. EITC is a means-tested welfare program, but unlike other programs one has to work to receive it. EITC recipients pay no federal income tax.
  4. Welfare-use is higher for every type of non-citizen households(illegals, permanent residents, long-term visitors), except in the case of housing programs.
  5. The longer the non-citizens are in the U.S., the more they are on welfare: Whereas 50% of non-citizen households in the United States for fewer than 10 years use one or more welfare programs, 70% of those who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years on are welfare.
  6. Low education is the reason for non-citizens being on welfare:
    • Although 93% of non-citizen households receiving welfare have at least one worker, they often earn low wages (because of their low education) and, therefore, qualify for welfare at higher rates than citizens.
    • 58% of all non-citizen households are headed by individuals with no more than a high school education, compared to 36% of citizen households.

Why non-citizens get welfare:

  1. Most legal immigrants have been in the country long enough to qualify.
  2. The barrier preventing non-citizens from receiving welfare does not apply to all programs, nor does it always apply to non-citizen children.
  3. Some states provide welfare to new immigrants on their own.
  4. Most importantly, non-citizens (including illegal immigrants) can receive benefits on behalf of their U.S.-born children who are awarded U.S. citizenship and full welfare eligibility at birth.
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