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Report: Immigrant Households Using Welfare At Vastly Higher Rate Than Native-Born Households


Immigrant-headed households in the U.S. use welfare at a much higher rate than their native-born counterparts and that trend holds true for both new and long-time immigrant residents, according to a new study.

According to a report released Wednesday from the Center for Immigration Studies, 51 percent of immigrant-headed households (both legal and illegal) reported using at least one welfare program during the year in 2012. Thirty-percent of native-headed households meanwhile used at least one welfare program.


The CIS report analyzed welfare data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Included in the center’s definition of welfare is Medicaid, cash, food, and housing programs.

“If immigration is supposed to benefit the country, then immigrant welfare use should be much lower than native use,” Steven Camarota the CIS’s Director of Research and the report’s author said. “However two decades after welfare reform tried to curtail immigrant welfare use, immigrant households are using most programs at higher rates than natives.”

Camarota noted that the skill and education level of many current immigrants is contributing to their welfare use.

“The low-skill level of many immigrants means that although most work, many also access welfare programs. If we continue to allow large numbers of less-educated immigrants to settle in the country, then immigrant welfare use will remain high,” he added.

While welfare use among both new and old immigrants is high — with 48 percent of immigrants in the U.S. for more than 20 years reporting welfare use — the rates vary based on region of origin.

In 2012, 73 percent of immigrant-headed households from Central America and Mexico reported using one of more welfare program. Households from the Caribbean used welfare at a rate of 51 percent, African immigrants were at 48 percent, South America at 41 percent, East Asia 32 percent, Europe 26 percent, South Asia 17 percent.

The report further highlights that while immigrant-headed households use welfare at a higher rate than natives they also pay taxes at a lower rate.

“On average, immigrant-headed households had tax liability in income and payroll taxes in 2012 that was about 11 percent less than native households, or about 89 cents for every dollar native households pay, based on Census Bureau data. Immigrant households have lower average incomes (from all sources) than native households and are a good deal larger, giving them more tax deductions. As a result, their average income tax liability is less than native households,” the report reads

Other findings in the CIS report include:

• No single program explains immigrants’ higher overall welfare use. For example, not counting subsidized school lunch, welfare use is still 46 percent for immigrants and 28 percent for natives. Not counting Medicaid, welfare use is 44 percent for immigrants and 26 percent for natives.

• Immigrant households have much higher use of food programs (40 percent vs. 22 percent for natives) and Medicaid (42 percent vs. 23 percent). Immigrant use of cash programs is somewhat higher than natives (12 percent vs. 10 percent) and immigrant use of housing programs is similar to natives.

• Many immigrants struggle to support their children, and a large share of welfare is received on behalf of U.S.-born children. However, even immigrant households without children have significantly higher welfare use than native households without children — 30 percent vs. 20 percent.

• The welfare system is designed to help low-income workers, especially those with children, and this describes many immigrant households. In 2012, 51 percent of immigrant households with one or more workers accessed one or more welfare programs, as did 28 percent of working native households.

• The large share of immigrants with low levels of education and resulting low incomes partly explains their high use rates. In 2012, 76 percent of households headed by an immigrant who had not graduated high school used one or more welfare programs, as did 63 percent of households headed by an immigrant with only a high school education.

• The high rates of immigrant welfare use are not entirely explained by their lower education levels. Households headed by college-educated immigrants have significantly higher welfare use than households headed by college-educated natives — 26 percent vs. 13 percent.

• In the four top immigrant-receiving states, use of welfare by immigrant households is significantly higher than that of native households: California (55 percent vs. 30 percent), New York (59 percent vs. 33 percent), Texas (57 percent vs. 34 percent), and Florida (42 percent vs. 28 percent).

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