This U.S. News and World Report piece (h/t DRJ) asks:
[W]hat do low-skilled immigrants cost America? Everything has its costs, of course. According to a new analysis by Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the average low-skilled immigrant household received $30,160 in direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and other services from all levels of government in 2004.
By contrast, low-skill immigrant households paid only $10,573 in taxes that year, meaning the average low-skill household had a fiscal deficit of $19,588. And what about retirement costs? Rector estimates that if all the current adult illegal immigrants in the United States were granted amnesty, the net retirement costs to government (benefits minus taxes) could be over $2.5 trillion.
A 2003 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas concluded that while high-skilled immigration had “good economic effects”–it added to economic growth and helped government finances–low-skilled immigration was more of a mixed picture. “The economic benefits are there as well but have to be balanced against the fiscal impact, which is likely negative,” explained economist Pia Orrenius.
This piece from the Cato Institute responds:
It is certainly true that low-skilled workers do, on average, consume more in government services than they pay in taxes, especially at the state and local levels. But some of the estimates of that cost have been grossly exaggerated. Moreover, the value of an immigrant to American society should not be judged solely on his or her fiscal impact.
I find the Cato Institute piece highly unpersuasive. It tries to tell me that the estimated 1-2 million extra people in Los Angeles County don’t contribute to:
How, you might ask, does the Cato Institute manage to reach this conclusion? It looks at things like rates, and concludes that (for example) the crime rate among illegals is low, so you can’t blame them for extra crime — or that they are generally healthy, so you can’t blame them for crowding the hospitals.
But this is a misleading way to look at it, because it ignores the fact that the absolute numbers are still going up, regardless of what the rates are — and we don’t have the infrastructure to accomodate the absolute numbers, which are having an impact on society.
Take prison space as an example. Let’s assume, hypothetically, that we have a 140,000 bed capacity in our prison system, but we have 170,000 prisoners, 35,000 of which are illegal immigrants. Even if it were true that illegals commit crimes at a lower rate than others, these numbers would still mean that with illegals, we have a capacity problem that could cost us billions to rectify — and without them, we’d have plenty of beds.
Studies like the Cato study ignore quality of life issues that result from an overabundance of people, and they also give short shrift to the strain on the infrastructure caused by millions of extra people. Of course they crowd the roads. Of course they crowd the hospitals. Of course they crowd the schools and the jails and the prisons. And of course there is a cost to all of this.
There are simply too damn many people — and the law is supposed to control the numbers to keep them in line with our capacity to handle them. Why doesn’t the Cato Institute talk about that?