Related Publications: Backgrounder
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in town that studies and critiques the effects of immigration in the United States. The paper we’re releasing today is on a subject that actually isn’t at the top of the discussion of immigration, but is frequently discussed.
The president talks about this issue frequently in saying that family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande. The corollary, though, is that family breakdown doesn’t stop at the Rio Grande, either. Immigrants are people, too, and they are affected by the stresses and changes in a modern society just like everyone else, and the mythology of unique immigrant commitment to traditional family values is one of the many myths that distorts this debate. And debunking that myth doesn’t necessarily have specific policy consequences, but it’s an important thing to do, like other myths related to immigration, like the unique entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants supposedly bring, which is false, or that there are job categories that only immigrants fill, which is also false.
It’s important to debunk these myths, if only to have a more constructive and accurate debate over the immigration issue. And that’s what the paper that we’re releasing today aspires to do. The author will make a presentation, summarizing what’s in the report, and then we’ll have two responses, two discussants, who are eminently qualified to talk about this issue.
The author is Steven Camarota, director of research at the center and one of the real authorities on the effects of immigration on the United States. And our two respondents are Nicholas Eberstadt from the American Enterprise Institute, who is really one of the top demographers in Washington dealing with demography and its policy consequences. This is not a topic that a lot of people here in Washington really grapple with and master. And our other respondent is Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation, who’s one of the nation’s leading experts on welfare-related issues and is now increasingly exploring and producing original work related to immigration as well. So after that, we’ll take some Q&A. If there are any questions, we’ll have answers for them. And Steve, why don’t you start it off?
STEVEN A. CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark. As Mark said, among supporters of high immigration it is very common to argue that immigrants are especially committed to family. President Bush, again, has repeatedly pointed out that family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande and that one of the most important traits of Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, more generally, is their “love of family.” In fact, it is common to find writers who argue that immigrants have “a stronger sense of family than Anglo-Americans.”
In an often-cited 1993 article for Commentary magazine, well-known author Francis Fukuyama argues that immigrants, including Hispanic immigrants, will help to strengthen traditional family values. In 2004, Fukuyama wrote, “Hispanic immigrants will help to reinforce certain cultural values like the emphasis on family.” But the question remains, however: Are Fukyama and other high immigration advocates right? Do immigrants have stronger families? Or put a different way, is one of the benefits of immigration that it will infuse the country with traditional family values? To be sure, the debate over immigration rests on more than just this question. Nevertheless, it is an important question.
The report that we’re discussing today explores this question by examining one of the most troubling family trends in American society: rising illegitimacy, or out-of-wedlock births, or births to unmarried women, however you wish to refer to it, and there are other ways.
In fact, historically, the pejorative term “bastard” used to described the children of unmarried parents was not only an indication of societies’ disapproval of the circumstances of their birth, but also reflected the general sense that such children often engaged in socially unapproved of behavior once grown. In America, the growing problem of illegitimacy and family breakdown has concerned policy makers and researchers for quite some time — at least as far back as 1965 and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous report that was entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Now, I’ll leave it to others to discuss what the consequences of illegitimacy are, but let me just say that the research on this seems overwhelming that the children born of unmarried parents suffer from a host of social problems that have consequences for them and for the larger society.
Of course, illegitimacy is only one way to measure commitment to traditional family. But it is clearly an important measure, and it’s one that can be well measured because the birth records collected by the National Center for Health Statistics include all births in the United States, so you don’t have this undercount problem that exists in Census data. The government is emphatic that more than 99 percent of all births in the United States are recorded, and all birth certificates in the United States, in every state, record where the mother was born, so you can distinguish between immigrant and foreign-born mothers on the one hand and native-born mothers on the other. And they also now all record — and have at least since 1980 — whether the parents are married.
Now, we follow the National Center for Health Statistics example and define people born outside the United States as foreign-born, and people born here as native-born, with the exception that we exclude people from Puerto Rico. The National Center for Health Statistics counts them with immigrants, and by doing so, they increase the illegitimacy rates somewhat among immigrants. But they’re not really immigrants, and the Census Bureau doesn’t consider them immigrants in its analysis.
So what did we find based on the birth certificates? Well, Figure 1 — which is blown up over here to my right, and it’s also in your report — reports the share of births to immigrants and natives based on where the mother was born and whether she was unmarried. It also reports the illegitimate births for the two largest groups within each category — that is, Hispanics for immigrants and non-Hispanic whites for natives. And what you see is that in 1980, about 19 percent of births to native-born mothers were illegitimate, compared to 13 percent for foreign-born mothers — about a 5.5 percentage-point difference. By 2003, it had grown dramatically for both groups, all the way up to 35.4 for natives and 31.5 percent for the foreign-born – a 3.9 percentage-point difference, so a slight narrowing.
Overall, these figures indicate that the difference between immigrants and natives was never that large to begin with, and what differences there are seem to be disappearing. At least with regard to the birth data, it is hard to find strong evidence that immigration is going to strengthen traditional family values, at least in the way that President Bush and Francis Fukuyama and others seem to think.
With roughly a third of births to both groups being illegitimate in 2003, the problem of illegitimacy is now extremely common among immigrants and natives alike. One of the things about Figure 1 is that it shows that for Hispanic immigrants, illegitimacy has increased more than it has for natives or immigrants generally. In 1980, the rate matched that of natives and in 2003, it was somewhat higher, or a good deal higher: 35 versus 42 percent.
The situation among Hispanics is very important because Hispanics account for almost 60 percent of all births to immigrants. So whatever Hispanics do is extremely important both to the overall discussion of immigration or when we think about the next generation, the children being born to immigrants. How the children of Hispanic immigrants fare, as I said, is one of the most critical questions. The birth data indicate that a very large share of the children of Hispanic immigrants are starting off life at a significant social disadvantage.
This disadvantage is especially pronounced in comparison to the children of non-Hispanic white natives. Figure 1 shows that 24.3 percent of non-Hispanic white children are born to unmarried parents. Now immigrants, of course, have to adapt to life in their parents’ adopted home country, and this is often a significant challenge. They’ve often and traditionally relied on strong family values to help them navigate life in their parents’ adopted country.
But the birth data show that in comparison to whites — the largest group in the United States — the children of Hispanic immigrants are much less likely to be born to married parents. In 1980, Figure 1 shows that 8.9 percentage points separated immigrant Hispanics from native-born whites; in 2003, 17.6 percentage points separated the two groups.
However, it must be made clear that non-Hispanic white natives, like their Hispanic immigrant counterparts, also have seen a huge increase in unmarried births. In fact, the 24 percent for white natives is as high as the rate for black Americans in the 1960s that prompted Moynihan to write his report in the first place. Figure 1 shows clearly that illegitimacy is a significant problem throughout American society. However, it is hard to see from these birth records that Hispanics will be the “source of strength” when it comes to family values that Fukuyama and others think.
Now, immigrants also comprise a rising share of illegitimate births in the United States. Immigrants accounted for about 21 percent in 2003 of all illegitimate births, up from about seven percent in 1980. And what the report shows, if you look in detail, is that their share of the overall population is not increasing as fast as their share of the illegitimate population. On the other hand, the overall rate of illegitimacy is not higher in the United States because of immigrants. About 35 percent of births are illegitimate, with or without immigrants. Thus, while immigration has significantly increased the number of illegitimate births — it’s about a fourth larger than it would otherwise be — the share of all births that are illegitimate is basically unaffected.
But again, this doesn’t tend to support the view that immigration is going to somehow revitalize or strengthen American family values. In fact, 2003 is the first time in the country’s history when the number of births to Hispanics, both immigrant and native — the number of illegitimate births, I should say — the number of illegitimate births to Hispanics, both immigrant and native, outnumbered the number of illegitimate births to Black Americans, immigrant and native.
Now, Table 1 in the report also shows no improvement in illegitimacy over the generations. Among native-born Hispanics, the illegitimacy rate is almost 50 percent, compared to the 42 percent for immigrant Hispanics. But for native-born Asians, it’s almost 30 percent. And among native-born whites, as I said before, it’s 24 percent.
For every racial ethnic group, illegitimacy is higher among natives than among the foreign-born. Now, while there’s no way to know for certain whether the children being born to today’s immigrants will follow the same pattern as previous generations, the available evidence indicates that there is no reason to believe that the problem will be any better in the next generation. Thus, hoping that the descendants of today’s immigrants will somehow strengthen family values seems unfounded.
One of the key findings of the report is the impact of education and how it interacts with illegitimacy. Table 2 in the report shows illegitimacy broken down by ethnic group and education. And as you might guess, those individuals with more education have the smaller share of their births being to unmarried parents. For college-educated immigrants, it’s about eight percent; for college-educated natives, it’s about six percent.
But without going into much detail — you can look at that table yourself — the bottom line is that with the exception of college graduates, all other groups have seen a real explosion in their illegitimacy rates, and now it’s very common, with the highest rates being for those who lack a high school education. Forty-five percent of births to immigrants without a high school education are to a mother who’s unmarried.
Now, Table 2 does shed light on another important question about illegitimacy, and that is the question of illegal immigrants. The table shows that illegitimacy among immigrant Hispanics does not vary as much by education as it does by natives. This suggests that cultural factors may play a role in illegitimacy, rather than legal status. In other words, much more educated Hispanics still have a very high rate of illegitimacy relative to more educated natives. In fact, the gap doesn’t really close when you look at the educational categories.
Now, this is important from a legal status point of view because a much larger share of less educated Hispanics are illegal. So they should have the highest illegitimacy rates, and the rates with natives, compared by education, should be the biggest differences down there. They’re not. Highly educated Hispanics, a very small share of whom are illegal, also tend to have much higher illegitimacy than more educated natives. So that’s not exactly the kind of pattern we would expect if illegitimacy was being driven mostly by illegal immigrants among Hispanics.
Now, obviously, the nation is currently debating whether to allow illegal aliens to stay and eventually gain citizenship, or enforce the law and cause them to go home. Between 50 and 60 percent of illegals are estimated to lack a high school education, and another 20 to 25 percent are thought to have only a high school degree. Moreover, 80 percent of illegals are estimated to be Hispanic.
Given that most illegals are less-educated and Hispanic, and given the high rates of out-of-wedlock births among less-educated Hispanics, an amnesty rather than an enforcement approach could contribute greatly to the illegitimacy problem in this county, in allowing illegals to stay. Of course illegitimacy is only one thing to consider when it comes to whether to let illegals to stay. But if the expectation is that illegals and their children will prosper once given legal status, Table 2 indicates that this is probably unrealistic.
Let me skip on down. Another way to think about the question of illegitimacy and legal status is to examine illegitimacy among different Hispanic groups. Most researchers agree, as I said, that about 80 percent of the illegal population is Hispanic. As we have seen, Hispanics have the highest illegitimacy among immigrants. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that illegal immigrants have higher rates of out-of-wedlock births than do legal immigrants. The question remains, again, though: Is the high level of illegitimacy among Hispanics related in some way to their legal status?
The education data would suggest no. Another piece of evidence to suggest that it’s probably more related to culture is that among native-born Hispanics, the illegitimacy rate is even higher, 50 percent. Now, native-born Hispanics, by definition, cannot be in the country illegally, yet their illegitimacy rate is higher overall than foreign-born Hispanics, suggesting again that culture or other factors play a role because none of them are illegal, yet their rates are higher than for the total foreign-born Hispanic population, which includes both legals and illegals.
Another reason to think that illegitimacy among Hispanics is not related to legal status is that among Hispanics, it does not vary in the way that you would expect between groups. One-fifth of non-Mexican Hispanics in the United States are estimated to be illegals, yet their illegitimacy rate overall is 45 percent. This compares to 41 percent for Mexican immigrants, half of whom are illegal. Again, this is not the pattern we would expect. If half of Mexicans are illegal and their illegitimacy rate is slightly lower than for non-Mexicans — only roughly a quarter or 30 percent of whom are illegal — then that suggests that something else is explaining illegitimacy, not whether someone is here legally or not.
Finally, it’s also important to note that illegitimacy is very common throughout Latin America and in a lot of other sending countries to the United States. For example, the illegitimacy rate in Mexico is officially 38 percent. In the Dominican Republic it’s 63 percent. In El Salvador it’s 73 percent. Hispanic countries are not, as I say, the only ones with high illegitimacy. In Jamaica it’s 86 percent. In Canada it’s 38 percent. And in the United Kingdom it’s 40 percent. Thus, it should come as no surprise that immigrants who come from societies in which illegitimacy is common have high rates of illegitimacy here.
Now, let me touch on what I think is one of the most important findings of the study, which can be found in Table 3. Table 3 shows that a very large share of the children born to unmarried immigrant parents are also born to a mother who has very little education. As the table shows, 56 percent of children born to an unmarried immigrant mother also are born to a mother who lacks a high school degree. The corresponding figure for natives is 33 percent, that 32.8 in the table.
Among Hispanic immigrants, 65 percent of the illegitimate children are born to a mother who hasn’t graduated high school. Since education is the key determinant in the modern American economy of income, poverty, welfare use, and just about every other measure of socio-economic status, those results are very important. It means that the education level of a lot of these illegitimate mothers is very likely to make it difficult for them to support their children without a lot of assistance from the state. Moreover, the fact that the parents are not from the United States may add still further to the challenges these children will face. In contrast, a much larger share of the children of natives seem to have the education to at least allow them to support their children more easily.
Now, let me shift gears a little bit and just point out in most of this report we do examine illegitimacy based on the share of all births that are to illegitimate mothers, to unmarried mothers, that is, the child is illegitimate. However, another common way is to look at just single women and see in a given year how many of them have a child. This is usually reported as the birth rate for unmarried or single women. Table 9 reports the results of that kind of analysis.
Overall, 8 percent of unmarried women had a child in 2003 if they’re immigrant, compared to 4 percent of natives. Or put a different way, one out of every 12 unmarried immigrant women had a child in 2003, compared to one out of every 25 for native women. The birth rate for single immigrants is twice the rate for natives. Among Hispanic immigrant women: 14 percent of Hispanic single women had a child in 2003, or almost one out of seven women had a child in 2003, put that way.
Of course, this is not the only way to think about family or illegitimacy, but the very high birth rates for single immigrant women do run completely counter to the argument, again, that immigrants are uniquely committed to family values. Now, there are other ways to think about family structure and family cohesion.
In Table 10 of the report, I do examine this question using Census data. Census data can’t be used really to measure illegitimacy, but it can be used to measure the question of do immigrants get married more often after the child is born — a child is born to unmarried parents, but they get married or maybe the parents never get married, but they live together. The upshot of the results in Table 10 is that there aren’t that many differences between immigrants and natives, even when we look at things like what share live with both parents, or what share did children of immigrants live in a married household?
Now, remember the Census data has the undercount problem, and that people being undercounted are the poorest, least educated who are the least likely to have traditional families. But even putting that aside, we don’t find much difference. Let me just give you one statistic: 75 percent of the U.S.-born children of all immigrants live in a household headed by a married person; the corresponding figure for natives is 70 percent. As you will recall from this figure up here, that’s not very different than the illegitimacy rates. They’re both pretty similar.
When we look at teenagers, the group most likely to get in trouble, well, then the differences are a little bit less. And you can look at the table yourself. It’s about 70 percent of U.S.-born teenagers of immigrants live in a married household, compared to 68 percent for natives, a two percentage point difference. Not much there.
Let me conclude by saying that overall the Census data in Table 10 — and you can read the surrounding text — like the birth records show that neither immigrants nor natives can be said be exemplary when it comes to marriage and children. Whatever data source we look at, whether it’s the birth records or the Census data, the findings show similarities between immigrants and natives. What the main difference is is that a very large share of immigrants who don’t have traditional families — that is, illegitimacy or the parents are unmarried even after the child’s born; you can see that in Table 10 — don’t have a lot of education to boot.
So that the children being born to immigrants — the main disadvantage they suffer is whatever disadvantage is associated with being the children of immigrants plus the fact that like natives, a large share live in untraditional families or families that have broken down. But also on top of that is that those who live in those kinds of families also have the situation where their mothers have very little education.
There is, I think, in conclusion, an unfortunate tendency to see immigrants as either paragons of virtue or as morally deficient in some way. When it comes to family values, neither view is correct. Immigrants are subject to the same social forces as everyone else, and illegitimacy is as big a problem among immigrants as it is for the rest of society. Thus, the idea that immigration will reinvigorate traditional family values is simply unrealistic. Thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve. Nick?
NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Thank you, Mark. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today. And as my friends at CIS know, my own prejudices are probably slightly less restrictionist in perspective on immigration than some other people’s, but my preferences and prejudices are irrelevant to this discussion. What we’ve got here is a fact-based discussion, and this is an exemplary report which I think brings forward the argument based on evidence.
And I think the findings are very important here; I think these are findings which should be widely circulated and discussed in the United States for public policy. Why? Because over the past generation, we have had a revolution in the family in the United States, and it’s a revolution that has eaten its young, by and large.
Although there are still many circles in the U.S. where it is seen as being politically incorrect to talk about the differences in family structure as they relate to the outcomes and prospects for children, there’s an overwhelming mountain of evidence we know about the odds. There are, of course, always exceptional cases in which remarkable individuals can rise above the disadvantages that they’re born into, but let’s be very clear about this: being born out-of-wedlock is an immense disadvantage for any given random child.
Just to mention two different ways in which this is a disadvantage: all other things being equal, a baby born without a married mother and father is much more likely to be born at low birth weight, which from a pure biological standpoint makes the odds of dying in the first year of life much higher, and, of course, children born out-of-wedlock are much more likely also to suffer from higher risk of infant mortality.
As we also know, and I think this is incontrovertible, children who are born-out-of-wedlock are much more likely to be dependent upon public means-tested benefits programs. Call it welfare dependency if you like or give it some nicer name, but the facts are really there.
Now, in this admirable report, there are number of very important findings. One of the findings which I find intriguing and fascinating is just in Table 1. If we parse immigration by ethnicity, do we find that there’s any appreciable difference between — with respect to illegitimacy — between native-born and foreign-born mothers? A little bit, I mean, not much. Slightly lower ratios of illegitimacy for Hispanic, Asian, and [all immigrants] in total. One of the things which I find kind of striking here is the difference with respect to non-Hispanic whites, where the illegitimacy ratio is only 12 percent — and I say only now because we’ve had this revolution in the family in the United States.
It is an intriguing finding because if one tries to think about countries in Europe or countries which have European populations abroad, it’s not so easy to find a country with only a 12 percent illegitimacy rating —
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s an interesting question.
MR. EBERSTADT: — and what this suggests to me . . . I mean, this is a hypothesis to pursue — this would be very much consistent with a hypothesis that highly educated, highly motivated, non-Hispanic whites from abroad are coming to the United States. There’s anecdotal evidence to that effect with the kind of white flight that’s happening in Europe now, in part because of immigration problems in Europe. It’s something which would be worth, I think, in pursuing.
MR. CAMAROTA: Could I make —
MR. EBERSTADT: Yeah.
MR. CAMAROTA: One thing you have to keep in mind is that it says non-Hispanic white, and one significant share of that population is likely from the Middle East, and that has some impact. One of the limitations of birth records is you don’t [get] country of birth; you get everyone grouped together and then you have race. Only Mexico, Cuba, and Canada is broken out separately.
MR. EBERSTADT: America’s advances in race science, right?
MR. CAMAROTA: I know.
MR. EBERSTADT: (Laughter.) Well, thank you. Thank you for that clarification.
I went back to try to take a look at some basic data on health and welfare dependence for immigrants and native-born Americans. And I have to say, to my surprise — although I think perhaps not to your surprise — the SIPP data from the 2001, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the longitudinal survey of households that the Census Bureau used to conduct and may one day again conduct — doesn’t show really any noticeable differences with respect to foreign-born and native-born welfare dependents for households that have children.
If you look at — this is not a perfect metric — but if you look at the data for households which receive any means-tested benefit — I’ll say, it’s not perfect, but it’s a first approximation — for married native-born Americans, it’s 11 percent; for married foreign-born Americans, it’s 13 percent; for never married Americans, it’s 30 percent; for never married foreign-born Americans, it’s 36 percent. And if you parse this through, there really isn’t any appreciable difference in program participation evident from that SIPP data. We could go further and maybe parse further things out, but that confutes my prejudices, I have to say.
I took a look at the low birth weight data also from NCHS, from this survey that you use, for the year 2003, and I think you’re exactly right to use the NCHS data rather than the Census Bureau data for your study. And here we have something that’s very odd and this also confutes some of my expectations and perhaps yours.
In general, of course, low birth weight tends to be associated with poorer educational status of the mother and low birth weight risk tends to be associated with illegitimacy rather than married mothers. But there is — just as people talk about the French paradox — you know, people drink wine and eat fatty diets and live to these incredible ages in the Mediterranean — it looks to me as if we’ve got a Mexican-American paradox going on here.
And this is important for a number of reasons, one of them being that one out of 10 births in the United States — more than one out of 10 births in the United States, according to NCHS — is to a mother who was born in Mexico . . . one of out six births to Mexican-American people, mothers; almost two-thirds of those to people who were born in Mexico. So it’s a big fraction of American births. If you look for the absolutely most disadvantaged mothers, I would say they would be the never married immigrant Mexican-American mothers who have less than a high school education. That’s a lot of strikes.
MR. CAMAROTA: And unmarried.
MR. EBERSTADT: And unmarried, yes. Unmarried, immigrant, less than high school education. Okay. If you compare that to married, college-educated, non-Hispanic whites born in the United States, which is a lot of advantages, it looks as if the low birth weight incidence is actually better for the disadvantaged Mexican immigrant mother than for the highly advantaged non-Hispanic white, native-born mother. The figures for the whites is 6.1 percent; the figure for the immigrant, never married, less than high school Mexican-American mother is 6.0. Now, there may be some statistical artifact here; there may be some sort of quirk in the numbers.
But this is really curious and it does not necessarily pertain at all to our question of family values, but there’s something that seems to protecting some of these babies against biological risks at least — I mean, that doesn’t say anything about the social risks of life later on. It’s a curiosity that I think I’m inclined to try to tease more out of.
But I commend you for this report. I think this is a stimulating report and it’s going to get our discussion going for the country as a whole.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you. Robert?
ROBERT RECTOR: Thank you. I’m Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation. This is an excellent report. I would say the two numbers that are most important in this report are the Hispanic immigrant out-of-wedlock birth rate at around 42 percent and what is really the base rate in the U.S. which is the white, non-Hispanic rate at 24 percent. If I were to choose one social measure as a predictor of future fiscal disaster in social cost it would be this out-of-wedlock birth rate figured here. And clearly this is a number which should set off alarm bells for anyone worried about the fiscal solvency of the government and future social problems.
Why is out-of-wedlock childbearing important? Well, each – last year, or 2004, federal, state, and local governments spent about $580 billion on means-tested aid, of which about $300 billion went to families with children. These would be 70 different programs, the largest of which are Medicaid, TANF, EITC, food stamps, school lunch, school breakfast, so forth and so on. If you look at that sum total of means-tested aid that went to families with children, about 75 percent of that went to single-parent families.
The reality is that the welfare state as we understand it, at least for the non-elderly, is primarily a support system for non-married parents to buttress society and to compensate for the huge deficits that occur as marriage erodes. And when we look at a number like this, we can see that at least for substantial portions of incoming immigrants, marriage is starting out eroding and then the situation seems to get worse in future generations.
So being born out of wedlock, a child born out of wedlock and raised without a father in the home is seven times more likely to live in poverty over the course of his youth than is child born to married parents where the marriage remains intact. Measurements of crime, drug use, school failure, and future welfare dependence in future generations, all are — by every measure you can think of — is worse when you don’t have a father in the home. This is the single strongest predictor of future social problems you can find.
Again, if I were to seize a predictor, this is the one I would look at, and these numbers are quite alarming. It should not be surprising then, looking at both the very high level of immigrants that are coming in who are poorly educated, with close to a third of all immigrant households now having a head who does not have a high school degree, and these very high levels of out-of-wedlock childbearing, that immigration is contributing substantially to poverty in the United States, with one-quarter of all poor children in the U.S. now [being] children of immigrants, and over one out of 10 poor children are children of illegal immigrants. We are in fact importing poverty, and we are doing that by importing people with very low skill levels, but also people with low skill levels who have a potentially problematic family structure.
It therefore shouldn’t be terribly surprising that each immigrant that we bring in who does not have a high school degree, who forms a family in the U.S., ends up costing the taxpayer around $20,000 per year, each year of his life, and that is total benefits received minus taxes paid into the system. And that is driven both by the low wages that that individual will receive but also by the high welfare benefits that are in a substantial degree driven by this family structure variable.
In short, what we see in a number like this, in a pattern like this, is that the United States is importing social and fiscal disaster that is . . . that the low-skill immigrants, I would estimate, cost the taxpayers close to a hundred billion dollars a year, and this situation is going to get worse. And then the final point that I think is very important, that is borne out in here, is that this is not a situation that gets better over time, that actually, when you look at the out-of-wedlock birth rate for Hispanic immigrants, it’s, what, about 42 percent, but then for native-born Hispanics, it’s actually slightly higher.
MR. CAMAROTA: It’s 50.
MR. RECTOR: Fifty. So we have a kind of downward assimilation starting from a very high point. There is nothing comforting in this data at all, and it is not the sole story but it is a major component of the story of why it is that the very large levels of low-skill immigration that we have had in the last 20 years are extremely costly both at present and even more costly in the future to the U.S. taxpayer.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Robert.
I actually had a question to get — I mean, did you want to respond to anything, Steve?
MR. CAMAROTA: No, I just wanted to tell Nick two things.
One is that, you know, one of the interesting things about the SIPP data, where you found that the families who were immigrant had the somewhat higher rates, we think that about a quarter to a third of the families in there are illegal, and being illegal should reduce your use rates of public — if you just looked at legal, you would find somewhat higher rates. Now, if you took out refugees, you would find that would tend . . . but overall, this finding that in general, use by immigrant households of means-tested programs is higher, is pretty well established, and it’s even bigger when you take out the illegals.
The illegals have somewhat lower rates of public service use, but they also make lower tax contributions because of their low income and low tax compliance. But that is something kind of striking because you would think, well, gosh, if it is already higher, imagine when I take out the illegals, who, again, who are a quarter to a third of your data.
The other question about the better health outcomes, seemingly — this is borne out by other research — that the share of children born, say, at a low birth weight or even infant mortality more generally to Hispanic immigrants is much lower than you would expect based on their education. Now, it is true that they tend to be younger, and the longer here — this kind of benefit seems to dissipate, and it doesn’t seem to exist really [with] U.S.-born Hispanics, so it is kind of a one-time thing, but it’s borne out by a fair — Marta Tienda and others have done research on this and find this kind of true. So it is an interesting finding. It’s not necessarily related so much to this, but just that what you find as others have found. So I just wanted to say that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And what Steve is talking about, though, is actually relevant I think to a lot of this issue, is this issue of a in a sense, downward assimilation; in other words, that immigrant behavior in schools moves toward American norms, immigrant response — you know, the low-birth-weight outcomes — all of those things because — and this reinforces the point that immigrants are people too; that immigrants respond to the same forces, that they are not some kind of inoculation we can use — you can’t really objectify them and that is the problem I think with a lot of the discussion of the issue.
Are there any questions?
MR. CAMAROTA: Did you have a question?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, let me let Jerry ask his first. Jerry?
Q: Thanks. I have got to leave in a few minutes.
Mr. Rector, you inspired quite a bit of debate last year with your estimates – your demographic – (inaudible). Have you notice any reaction on the Hill to the latest numbers, these fiscal-impact numbers that you were sending here. What are the politics of these numbers?
MR. RECTOR: I think the politics of these numbers are that the open-borders people would desperately like to ignore them, that they – because I don’t think they are refutable in any sense. They are common sense. High school dropouts cost the taxpayer lot of money, whether they are born in Kentucky or Guatemala. And if you have an immigration system through both legal and illegal, you know, importing large numbers of those types of individuals, they are going to — they are going to cost a lot of money.
I find that in general, the level ignorance in this debate is quite striking. I have worked in politics in Washington for 25 years, and I am simply floored by the lack of information in the Congress concerning just very basic things like, well, what will be the fiscal consequences if you grant amnesty, what are the fiscal consequences, and basic facts like this, I mean, which . . . you want to know these kinds of things before one embarks on policies that are going to greatly increase the number of certain types of immigrants in the U.S.
Q: Do you think that is unusual in terms of social policy or do you think they should make other social policies that are frequently shaped without a great deal of fact-based information in the Congress.
MR. RECTOR: No. I mean, I don’t have high opinions of debate in this city, but this one really, really hits the sub-kindergarten level. (Laughter.) I’m simply floored by the just total lack of information that I find, particularly among members in the Senate.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Go right ahead.
Q: Dan Griswold with the Kato Institute. Also, sir, is — (inaudible) — he is very much — (inaudible) — that the ultimate result is going to be what Michael Barone sees, and that Mexican immigrants are going to repeat the success of Italian immigrants of a hundred years. How do you respond to that argument that eventually upward mobility will manifest?
MR. RECTOR: Well, first of all, this data does not reflect that, and you have got a very social pattern here. There will be some upward mobility, but the initial — the costs for multiple generations will be extraordinarily large, and I mean, the pretense there is that somehow you can move quickly to a second generation and they will compensate for all of the fiscal costs in the first generation. There is no evidence to suggest that at all; I mean, it’s actually kind of ludicrous on the face given the huge level of costs that the first generation of low-skill immigrants brings with it.
I think the — there are several differences. One is, these are clearly families in disintegration in contrast to whatever immigrant group you would have from the early 20th century.
But the other thing that I continually point out is during the last great wave of immigration, there wasn’t even a federal income tax, okay, let alone a governmental system whose major function was to tax away about $2 trillion a year out of the upper middle class and give it to less-advantaged individuals. We now live in a massive transit state that did not exist prior — really, prior to the 1960s, but certainly prior to FDR. And therefore, the fiscal implication of immigrants coming into the U.S. today is very different than it was in previous generations when this massive transfer system didn’t exist.
Secondly, historically, immigrants on average had higher education levels than the native-born population. It’s a little hard for people to realize that when we have these pictures Ellis Island in our minds, but the reality is we’re not remembering what the Native Americans were like in 1910 and so forth, and as a result of that, immigrants use to, on average, have higher incomes than native-born Americans. We are very dramatically moving away fro that trend and bringing in, through both illegal and legal channels cohorts of immigrants that are substantially less educated than the American now, and they fit into this system of income transfer as a recipient class. And it’s very difficult to argue your way out of that simple reality.
MR. EBERSTADT: I think Robert is right. The flows of immigration to the United States today highlight and intensify the contradictions of our welfare state and the contradictions we see in the crisis of the family. And we have a crisis of the welfare state, and we have a crisis of the family in the United States.
MR. RECTOR: And these — the facts in this paper are sort of amplifying factors that make that even more intense.
MR. CAMAROTA: Let me say this: One area that I look at too, looking at the 1910 Census, spending a little time on that, and looking at today, one of the interesting things is just how much larger share, say, Mexican immigrants are, not only the overall pie, but of births. What does it mean?
And this is an open question, but let me just throw out — Italians seem to have accounted — Italians and immigrants from the Russian empire were the groups accounting for the largest share of births in 1910, around 4 percent. Mexican immigrants account now for over 10 percent of all births in the United States. Does that in any way impact the terms of assimilation or the way the groups will integrate into American society? Yes, their education level of the parents is quite low as well; yes, there is the existence of the welfare state. These are very important and maybe more easy to measure.
But if one of the ways assimilation is supposed to work, is that the children of immigrants in effect, or children from immigrant families kind of get lost in a sea of children from native-born families, if that is one of the way that sort of works, those kinds of underlying demographics may change it. You know, you’re looking at about 15 percent of all children born in the United States are being born to a Hispanic immigrant, a Spanish-speaking immigrant.
MR. KRIKORIAN: A Mexican-American.
MR. CAMAROTA: Again, this is dramatically larger than any other single country or linguistic group in 1910. Does that matter? I don’t know, but it may.
Q: Well, Steve, you write that in 1980, 14.3 percent of births of immigrant mothers with only a high-school degree were out of wedlock; in 2003, 34.7 percent. Then you talked about some other cultural factors possibly. What do you think is at work here?
MR. CAMAROTA: Oh, I think that, as I point out, illegitimacy is just very common throughout Latin America; it’s very much accepted. In the Dominican Republic, it’s 63 percent; in El Salvador, it’s over 70 percent. In Mexico, the official number is apparently 38 percent, but most people seem to think it’s a lot higher. It’s just well accepted throughout Latin America, so why would it be much different when folks come here. It should be around – the fact that it is 42 percent here shouldn’t be strange.
Q: Is it rising in Latin America?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, it’s gotten up a lot in America, but at some point, illegitimacy, like anything else, tops out. Some people are going to choose always to be married when they have children. It can’t get much higher in El Salvador or the Dominican Republican. It can go a good deal higher, say, in Mexico. But it’s risen dramatically. But it has been high for a while apparently.
I site that report, and there is a link there in the U.N. report from 2003, and there is some historical illegitimacy data there if that interests you, but it seems like it has been high for a long time in Latin America, and it’s gotten higher, so why wouldn’t it. There may be a different form of illegitimacy too there; you know what I mean. There may be more co-habitation. The Census data doesn’t really show that.
Q: Are there any benefits to claiming to be unmarried in order to avoid costs at a hospital or —
MR. CAMAROTA: I’m trying to think —
MR. RECTOR: Yeah, our welfare system still penalizes marriage. But in general, even if these families were married, the low skill immigrants have such low wage levels that they would be the heavy takers of means-tested welfare. But I think you could — about 85 percent of out-of-wedlock births are funded at the front door by the Medicaid system. And that would almost certainly apply for immigrant births as well.
Q: Well, that will be a incentive to self-report as unmarried, right?
MR. RECTOR: Yeah, but I don’t think it means that the report is false. I mean, I think that the report is accurate. That is what all of the data would suggest.
The – I mean, the relevant thing in terms of welfare is that the child born is an American citizen, which means that birth is covered from Medicaid from the get-go and the – you are looking at essentially a full lifetime of welfare benefits that are going to flow from that.
MR. CAMAROTA: Let me say — yeah, there might be some incentive to claim, even if you are married, that you’re not; however, that same incentive would exist for natives too. So maybe both groups are slightly inflated. However, the census analysis shows exactly the same pattern, which his later in life, and not just at birth but when the kids are teenagers or just kids in general, so it tends to buttress the birth records. And the birth records are generally considered pretty darn accurate because everyone seems to treat them as kind of official documents. Everyone recognizes that they are official documents in a way and that that is why they are usually seen as so good — if that helps answer at all.
MR. KRIKIORIAN: Other question.
Q: (Off mike.) Is there any information that you have that some of these births are home births, not in hospitals?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yes, some of them are.
Q: And are you capturing that that — (inaudible) — records.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, the National Center for Health Statistics feels that they capture al births, that — I believe the figure they give is well over 99 percent of all births in the United States are captured. And when we try to compare it to Census data, it tends to buttress that. When we look at school enrollment data, you know, six years down the line, it tends to buttress. So if there is some fraction of births in the United States that are getting missed, it has to be one-tenth of 1 percent, two-tenths of 1 percent. So it couldn’t affect any of these results in any way.
But I’m sure there are some births that do get missed. But remember, everybody, even someone here illegally, who has the kid at home, recognizes why it is so important to try to get an official — the record of that birth officially reported, and that is why the data seems to be so good — just self-incentives.
MR. EBERSTADT: if I could elaborate on that, I think Steve is exactly right on this. I’m on the board of scientific counselors of the National Center for Health Statistics, the organizations of the CDC that complies these data from the state and D.C. government, for the nation as a whole. And there are — we worry ourselves about all sorts of nerdy questions about birth certificates and harmonization of the data on the birth certificates from different states and localities, but as to the total coverage, they were pretty confidence that it — not 100 percent, but very close to that.
I mean, even in the year of the Katrina disaster, the coverage in New Orleans was almost 100 percent. And there was a little bit of a lag time in getting some of the information in, but even if it — if you could have nearly 100-percent coverage, one believes, in sort of an upheaval, like Katrina in a place like New Orleans, in other places, your coverage is pretty good.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, let’s wrap it up. I just wanted to observe that really this is that really this is one of those issues that we need this kind of fact-based reports on because so much of the thinking is kind of anecdotal. People think about grandpa and grandma being married for 60 years after they came after from Sicily, and therefore, well, today’s immigrants must be the same. Grandpa had a little grocery store, and heck, there is that guy with the falafel stand on the corner, therefore immigrants must be very entrepreneurial. You know, Grandpa worked in the wire factory, and I don’t want to owe my own lawn; therefore, immigrants must be hardworking and happily doing dirty jobs. And this is the kind of analysis that we hope is going to introduce a little more reality into the fantasy that shapes a lot of immigration policy. So thank you —
MR. EBERSTADT: Could I say one more —
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, please.
MR. EBERSTADT: This just to occurs to me — and this is something that Steve can’t put in this report because the data aren’t there to do it — but one missing aspect from quantifying the discussion about family values, either for native-born or immigrant Americans has to do with religiosity. And it is certainly a plausible hypothesis that religiosity might help to lead to positive outcomes for families. The problem with trying to pursue this question is that the Census Bureau is restricted, and joined by law, from asking Americans questions about religiosity, their religion, and so forth, and so on, and all of the other statistical organs in the U.S. government more or less follow the Census Bureau’s lead in this.
I don’t know that this would change our assessment much one way or the other, but it would add another dimension to our possible appreciation of this impact in family matters. And I wish that our government would collect that sort of information.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Nick. And thank you, Robert and Steve for people who braved our event and came. And I think you can accost them afterwards now if you have any more questions. Thanks a lot gentlemen.
MR. RECTOR: Not all at once.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, not all at once.