Fact and Friction

Immigration by the numbers


Writing in National Review's November 21, 1994 issue, Editor John O'Sullivan says "immigration serves to enhance the welfare state and multicultural policies." But demographic data suggest that today's immigrants maintain "traditional family values" more consistently than the native-born.

In the Manhattan Institute's "Index of Leading Immigration Indicators," John Miller of the Center for Equal Opportunity and Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute compile data from The Statistical Abstract of the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Census Bureau, and elsewhere to counteract prevailing myths about immigration. As recently as 1970, nearly half of all immigrants arrived from Canada or Europe; only 12.5 percent come from those nations today. Since 1981, nearly 78 percent of immigrants came from Asia, Mexico, and other Latin American nations.

But in 1990, 34.6 percent of foreign-born households contained the "traditional American family" of a married couple and minor-age children, compared with only 25.6 percent of native-born households. Seventy-six percent of immigrant households were composed of families, compared with 70.7 percent of native-born households. And Asian and Hispanic immigrant households were more likely to consist of families (81.1 percent and 85.2 percent, respectively) than the households of Asians (78 percent) and Hispanics (81.3 percent) born in the United States. Immigrants are also more likely to marry and not divorce, and are less likely to belong to female-headed households with minor-age children.

Working-age immigrants are also more likely to be employed than the native-born: 76.9 percent of foreign-born males older than 16 work, compared with 74.2 percent of natives. And working immigrants are less likely to depend upon taxpayers for their employment. While 15.7 percent of natives work for the government, only 9.8 percent of foreign-born legal residents and naturalized citizens do.

Given these statistical trends, it's not surprising that working-age immigrants receive welfare less frequently than natives. Only 2 percent of non-refugee immigrants who arrived between 1980 and 1990 receive welfare; nearly twice that ratio, 3.7 percent of the native born, are on the welfare rolls.

The index suggests that welfare and multiculturalism are problems caused and exacerbated by the native born. Rather than vilify immigrants, welfare-state opponents might improve their chances of success by enlisting the foreign born to their cause.