There are few subjects that elicit stronger emotions in the political arena than welfare and immigration. These are complex issues that deal with millions of people and billions of dollars; they are difficult to grasp and even harder to summarize in a media-friendly sound bite. Statistics are a powerful tool for helping policymakers get a realistic understanding of the situation and make informed decisions. However, statistics also are regularly used by pundits throughout the political spectrum as weapons to either attack or defend welfare programs and immigration.
Immigrants and Medicare
A study published by the Health Affairs journal revealed that in 2009 immigrants paid 14.7 percent of Medicare contributions but were responsible for only 7.9 percent of its expenditures. In 2009 alone, they paid $13.8 billion more into Medicare Part A than what they received in benefits. The study estimated that from 2002 to 2009, immigrants contributed $115.2 billion more to Medicare than what they took out. In contrast, the same study found that native-born Americans received $30.9 billion more in benefits than what they paid into the system.
Immigration and Stingy States
According to conservative columnist Jason Riley, immigration is highest among the states that spend the least on welfare programs. In his book "Let Them In," Riley points out that the 10 states with the largest increase in foreign-born people from 2000 to 2009 spent an average of $35 per person on welfare programs. The 10 states with the lowest increase in foreign-born people, on the other hand, spent an average of $166 per person on welfare programs.
Immigrant Vs Non-Immigrant Welfare Use
According to the Center of Immigration Studies, in 2010, 57 percent of households headed by either a legal or illegal immigrant used at least one welfare program. Twenty-two percent of households headed by a native-born received some form of welfare. The same Center for Immigration Studies study reported that, in 2009, 95 percent of immigrant households had at least one worker. On the other hand, the Social Security Administration estimates that illegal immigrants pay $6 billion to $7 billion a year in Social Security taxes for benefits they will never receive, as illegal immigrants are not eligible for Social Security benefits or -- for that matter -- food stamps or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Welfare, Immigration and News Coverage
Sadly, opinions on welfare and immigration -- throughout the political spectrum --are sometimes based on myths, stereotypes and misinformation. Even when reporting is accurate, the news coverage often is unbalanced and influenced by a political agenda. According to Kamla Pande's 2006 senior honors thesis at the University of Michigan, "The Effects of September 11, 2001 on Media Discourse and Public Opinion toward Immigration," news coverage between 1995 and 2005 on immigration was twice as likely to focus on the costs of immigration than on its benefits.
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