Tiny Bit of Good News – More Migrants Retiring Overseas, Not Here

By David North on September 12, 2013

The United States is financially better off when people who would probably be eligible for various social benefits — such as Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, SSI, etc. — leave the country. You might call it the emigration of the elderly, something we rarely discuss.

The good news is that the outward movements of such persons have been increasing, albeit slowly, over the last six years. Most of these are foreign-born.

How do we know this?

There, of course, cannot be a count of would-be food stamp recipients, for example, who have left the country. But there are accurate tallies of a proxy population, Social Security beneficiaries, who are largely low-income former workers now either retired or (a smaller group) disabled, and the survivors of such persons.

In December 2006, there were 468,078 Social Security beneficiaries in foreign counties; six years later, despite the deaths of many of the 2006 group, that number had increased to 586,110 according to the Social Security Administration.

So, with each passing year there are about 20,000 more potential welfare recipients who have left the nation.

Yes, they are taking Social Security benefits that they earned here to somewhere else, but while Social Security can under some (but not all) circumstances be paid overseas, the other social programs just mentioned are U.S.-specific. Even the most creative social worker cannot cause Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks or food stamps, or Medicare and Medicaid benefits, to be sent outside the United States. So it is useful to our nation that the 586,110 are living where they are living.

Most of those now abroad could be in the United States collecting both Social Security and a wide variety of other benefits.

This is a low-income population, hence likely to be eligible for welfare. In 2012, the average (median) monthly Social Security check for all retired workers (98 percent-plus of whom live in the United States) was $1,259; the average monthly check for those overseas was $584. This is less than half the national average.

One of the reasons for these overseas retirements is the traditional lure of returning home as one ages, back to familiar places, people, languages, and weather; another is that in many parts of the world a Social Security check for $584 goes a lot further there than it would in the States.

As near as I can tell, one of the reasons for these outmigrations is not, as it should be, because of any promotion on the part of our government. We should be taking a series of active steps, as I suggested in an earlier blog, to encourage potential welfare recipients to leave the county to relieve both population and fiscal pressures. But we are not doing so.

Unfortunately there is a (mistaken) onward-and-upward mindset among our policy-makers who just cannot grasp the notion that someone leaving the United States might be doing the rest of us a big favor. Emigration is rarely mentioned, but in-migration is constantly discussed.

I do not think that there is a single line in the 1,000-plus page S.744 that touches upon this matter.