National Data | Dem Enforcer Jared Bernstein Fails To Finesse Immigration’s Impact On Poverty

President Obama’s SOTU Tuesday night was widely billed as focusing on “inequality”—a tempting but ticklish subject for class-warfare Democrats, because it’s substantially exacerbated by the immigration they are treasonously counting on to elect a permanent Leftist majority. So Dem enforcers in the Main Stream Media have sprung into action.

Case in point: former Joe Biden aide Jared Bernstein’s January 22 blog post Immigration and Poverty, which the Huffington Post subsequently recycled in its economical way (January 23, 2014). John Boehner take note: the HuffPo comment thread was hearteningly skeptical, especially for a fashionably Leftist site.

After conceding the unavoidable fact that the US is importing poverty—

…True: in 2012 (most recent data) the poverty rate for native-born persons was 14.3 percent while that of the foreign-born was 19.2 percent

Bernstein [Email him] spins:

But that`s not much of an insight. Since you could say the same thing about any group with below average incomes, it`s pretty much saying we`d have less poverty if only we had fewer poor people. I suppose the anti-immigrant [sic] argument is that immigrants are not like other low-income, native-born groups because we don`t have to accept them here. But while I agree that we and every other country should have the ability to control immigrant flows, no serious or realistic voices in this contentious debate are saying those flows should be zero….

[Emphasis definitely not in the original.]

VDARE.com has, of course, called repeatedly for just that: an immediate moratorium on all immigration, such as the one the U.S. imposed from 1924 to 1965. That forty-year breathing space allowed the melting pot to do its thing and create the cultural and economic unity we enjoyed in the Eisenhower-Kennedy era.

But we don’t claim to be “serious” or “realistic”—just correct.

Bernstein claims that it’s “not much of an insight” that poverty has an immigration dimension. He doesn’t specifically say what that dimension is, but back in in 2003 (we’ve been doing this for a long time) I pointed out that about 16% of the U.S. poverty population at that time were immigrants—to which should be added (rarely mentioned) their Anchor Baby minor children (another 7.5%) and (never mentioned) the adult descendants of the post-1965 Immigration Act influx, which I then estimated at another 13%. Total immigration dimension of poverty in 2003: well over a third—36.5%. In 2010, the  figure was 16.5 percent of immigrants living in poverty. [Immigrants in the United States: A Profile of America`s Foreign-Born Population, By Steven A. Camarota, CIS, August 2012.]

That sounds quite a lot of an insight to me. And that’s just the static effect. Immigration also has a dynamic effect: it increases labor market competition for native-born Americans. Bernstein admits he doesn’t deal with this—he calls it one of his analysis’ “significant omissions”—but he says he doubts it would “move the results in a big way.” This is completely implausible—see below.

Does immigration increase poverty in a given year? The answer, Jared acknowledges, is a simple “yes.” But “the more interesting and impactful” question, he insists, is: “What impact has immigration had on poverty over time and what might we expect in the future?”

Right again. And this graphic provides insight to the answer:

Poverty fell like a stone after World War II.

In 1947 nearly one-third (32%) of all families were officially classified as poor. [Have Antipoverty Programs Increased Poverty? By James Gwartney And Thomas S. McCaleb, Cato Journal 5, no: 1 (Spring/Summer 1985) PDF] In 1959—the year Census starting collecting poverty data—only one-fifth (22.4%) of persons had incomes below the poverty line. By 1973 the fraction of American families living in poverty was cut in half, to 11.1%.

But then progress against poverty stalled. And it has been moving sideways in a range ever since. Poverty rose to the 15% range in the eighties and early nineties. While the 1990s boom—and welfare reform—pushed poverty down to 11.3% in 2000, it has been trending upward since then. The poverty rate has never breached its 1973 low.

And note that most of the postwar poverty decline occurred before Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty. Progress against poverty stalled just as Great Society programs were gearing up—and the economy was booming.

Why? The conventional conservative answer: blame the poverty programs themselves. On this view, easy access to welfare, Food Stamps, and other Great Society goodies eroded the need for the unemployed to find work. People made themselves poor to qualify for the means-tested goodies.

Maybe. But there’s also the unmentioned imported component of poverty. In the five years prior to 1965 the number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status averaged 284,000 per year. In the subsequent five years this legal immigration averaged 359,000 per year; by the 1990s an average 980,000 new legal permanent residents were admitted annually.

As quantity increased, quality declined. The newest immigrants in 1960 were better educated than natives; by end of the 20th century the newest arrivals had almost two fewer years of education. [The Top Ten Symptoms of Immigration, by George Borjas, CIS, November 1999.]

In 1960 the average immigrant man actually earned about 4% more than the average native man. By 1998, the average immigrant man earned about 23% less.

Poverty rates vary dramatically among immigrant groups. In 2012 (latest data) 24.9% of non-citizens had incomes below the poverty line. The corresponding rate for naturalized citizens: 12.4%. The latter group is actually less likely to be poor than native-born Americans—14.3% poor.

Bernstein tries to use this to evade current immigration’s inexorable impact on poverty:

“For the last decade, the increase in the foreign-born share of the population has been driven by naturalized citizens with lower poverty rates, while non-citizen flows have been relatively flat.

The fact that immigration isn`t placing much pressure on poverty rate trends suggests that if we want to reduce those trends, we`re less likely to get there by trying to reduce immigration…”

Two points.

1. “Non-citizens” include illegal immigrants, nearly two million of whom left the country (a.k.a. self-deported) after the Great Recession. [A Shifting Tide: Recent Trends in the Illegal Immigrant Population, by Steven Camarota,   CIS Backgrounder, July 2009]That is a good thing. It kept the poverty rate low, or at least lower than it would have been had they stayed.

2. Naturalized citizens, who enter the country legally, are the far bigger problem. They, above all other immigrants, are the ones getting the jobs. They are the ones displacing Americans in the job market.

We track the immigrant worker invasion in our New VDARE.com American Worker Displacement (NVAWDI) Index:

Obama`s Legacy

Native-born employment growth is the blue line, immigrant job growth is in pink, and NVAWDI—the ratio of immigrant to native-born job growth—is in yellow.

From January 2009 to December 2013:

  • Foreign-born employment rose by 2.167 million, or by 10.0%. The immigrant employment index rose from 100.0 to 110.0
  • Native-born employment rose by 198,000 or by 0.2%. The native-born American employment index in December 2013 was 100.2, or just barely above the level of January 2009.
  • NVDAWDI (the ratio of immigrant to native-born American employment growth indexes) rose from 100.0 to 109.8 (100X(110.0/100.2)

In other words, Americans’ employment has essentially not increased through the Obama years. Immigrants have seized essentially all the new jobs.

The poverty rate for full time workers was 2.9% in 2012. For those who did not work at least one week, the poverty rate was 33.1%. Non-workers account for about 60% of all working age (18 to 64 years) people in poverty.[Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012.” ]

A job is the best of all anti-poverty programs.

Thanks to immigration, native-born Americans appear increasingly ineligible.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.