A new study blows a hole in the conventional wisdom that immigrants are sapping the nation’s welfare programs.
As Washington grapples with a sweeping bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system, a new report shows that immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare than they’ve received from the program, thus helping it to remain solvent.
According to the study, published recently in the journal Health Affairs, immigrants in recent years contributed roughly $14 billion more per year to Medicare than they received from the program.
As a result, foreign-born US residents produced a $115 billion surplus from 2002-2009 while the rest of the population caused a $28 billion deficit over that same period.
In other words, the aging US population was sucking money from Medicare faster than it could replenish those funds, and immigrants helped cover the shortfall.
The logic behind the findings is straightforward: Immigrants tend to be younger, working-age adults who don’t yet qualify for Medicare. Medicare recipients must be 65 years old and up, or meet certain disability requirements.
According to the study, about 80 percent of foreign-born residents were of working age (18-64 years old) in 2009. For American-born residents, that figure was just shy of 60 percent.
The researchers argued that their findings make a strong economic case for a more inclusive immigration policy. “Policies that reduce immigration would almost certainly weaken Medicare’s financial health, while an increasing flow of immigrants might bolster its sustainability,” one researcher said.
That finding directly contradicts the notion that immigrants are draining the public-welfare programs. Critics of a bipartisan immigration bill making its way through the Senate have argued that it will dangerously bloat such programs and cost taxpayers trillions of dollars.
A recent study by the Heritage Foundation, led by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), offered the most extreme take, claiming the bill would cost the US $6.3 trillion over the next half-century.
The Heritage study was widely criticized — even by conservatives — for failing to consider the economic boost an influx of new workers would bring to the nation.
However, the cost of the Senate immigration bill remains a significant concern among members of Congress. And
immigration-reform skeptics were hardly moved by the new report.
“It’s a yawner of a study,” Robert Rector, a Heritage Foundation researcher who worked on that group’s report, told the New York Times. “Young people don’t get Medicare. We don’t need several Ph.D.s to tell us that.”