Are immigrants more likely than those born on American soil to live on the dole? It depends, says a July 1998 report published by the National Immigration Forum. Study author Stephen Moore, director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute, found that 5.8 percent of immigrants do wind up on welfare (defined as general assistance; Aid to Families with Dependent Children and its successor program; and Supplementary Security Income), a slightly higher rate than native-born Americans (4.5 percent), according to 1996 Census Bureau data.
But when refugees are sorted out, it appears that America's most recent, self-selected residents come to this country to labor rather than lounge. Census data from 1990 report that only 2 percent of working-age non-refugee immigrants rely on welfare, compared to 3.7 percent of American-born citizens. Refugees, who typically move to this country at times they can't choose, are more dependent on welfare than the native born (13.4 percent). And 11.1 percent of elderly immigrants, who often don't work long enough to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, receive welfare. Nearly half of elderly refugees rely on government assistance.
Moore concludes, however, that the lifetime fiscal contributions of immigrants are overwhelmingly positive: Depending on education and other skills, the typical immigrant will pay from $20,000 to $80,000 more in taxes than he or she will receive in government benefits.