Is Something Missing Here?

From a National Review editorial on immigration:

Poor Trend, by Rich Lowry

The National Research Council reports that an immigrant to the U.S. without a high-school diploma — whether legal or illegal — consumes $89,000 more in governmental services than he pays in taxes during his lifetime. An immigrant with only a high-school diploma is a net cost of $31,000. Eighty percent of illegal immigrants have no more than a high-school degree, and 60 percent have less than a high-school degree.

Steve Camarota of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies estimates that illegal immigrants cost the federal government $10 billion a year. State and local governments lose even more. Illegals pay some taxes, but not enough to cover governmental expenses like Medicaid and treatment for the uninsured.

According to Camarota, if illegal immigrants were legalized, their net annual cost to the federal government would only increase, tripling to $30 billion a year. Immigrant workers don't earn enough to pay much in taxes, while they qualify for all sorts of governmental assistance. As they become legal, they will get even more assistance — the benefits that they get from the Earned Income Tax Credit, for instance, would increase by a factor of 10.

Where are the comparative statistics for native-born US citizens in similar socio-economic conditions? What is the socio-economic condition and quintile position of a US citizen that doesn't represent a net cost to the government?

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This is an excellent

This is an excellent argument for raising taxes on the poor.

Uh...why does any of this

Uh...why does any of this matter? Dan, meet marginal analysis, MA, Dan. No one is (sadly) proposing changes to the welfare state to reduce the costs of those already here. The status quo tells us nothing at all about the benefits of adding more people under the existing rules.

If I'm not really happy about paying the credit card debt I have at 22%, you're hardly going to convince me that taking on another $15k at the bargain rate of 15% is a good idea.

How interesting. As if tax

How interesting. As if tax revenues are the only benefit that immigrants confer on the country. As if consumption of government services is the only cost they impose.

Those numbers don't even remotely speak the desirability or undesirability of immigration in general, nor to that of illegal or low-skilled immigrants in particular. I can prove that anything is good or bad by comparing some fraction of the costs to some fraction of the benefits.

The whole editorial is intellectually dishonest. It doesn't fairly represent the position of the pro-immigration faction, nor does it represent any serious effort to understand the impact of illegals on our economy.

Also, he was apparently absent from college the day they covered comparative advantage. He shows no awareness that such a thing exists.

I don't have a clue whether illegal immigrants represent a net benefit or a net cost to US citizens, and neither does Lowry. I would guess that somewhere in the economics or political science literature, there exist actual scholarly attempts to find the answer to that question. They may be imperfect, but they're probably more insightful than this.

It would be more accurate to

It would be more accurate to count the taxes paid by immigrants as a cost (since they expand the parasitic sector) and count the "costs" of services to them as a reduction in loss (since at least they are not being used to fund dictators, terrorist groups, Crusades, or any of the other valuable projects of the Feds).

Does anyone seriously believe that if the illegals weren't here, the government would give us back our money?

Of course getting rid of the welfare programs is a great idea... an idea that never seems to occur to those who want to pay Halliburton to build a Berlin Wall around the entire US.

"Steve Camarota of the

"Steve Camarota of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies estimates that illegal immigrants cost the federal government $10 billion a year. State and local governments lose even more. Illegals pay some taxes, but not enough to cover governmental expenses like Medicaid and treatment for the uninsured."

Since when has the government been concerned with showing a profit?

Since when has the

Since when has the government been concerned with showing a profit?

That's right! Shouldn't a loss of $10 billion indicate that we need to spend even more? Isn't a program failure usually offered as proof of the need to expand said program?

It would be interesting to

It would be interesting to see how he did the calculations. If you only look at expenditure and taxation, the average citizen costs the government money--that's why there is a deficit.

Assuming he didn't make that mistake, and supposing his calculations are correct, the implication is that people with higher incomes pay more taxes than the money spent on them. As a general rule, the children of immigrants make more money than the immigrants, so he ought to be trying to estimate the total effect, not just the first generation.

I checked the web for

I checked the web for something closer to a first hand account of the National Research Council report. The National Review summary is deliberately misstating the results by selective reporting:

"The panel's long-term estimates indicate that on a national level, the majority of new immigrants and their descendants will add more to government coffers than they receive over their lifetimes. The positive fiscal effects of immigration at the federal level are shared equally by all residents across the nation. However, residents of a few states such as California -- with high numbers of new immigrants -- will bear long-term costs that are concentrated at the state and local level of government.

Immigrants and their children will bring long-term benefits for most U.S. taxpayers because -- like most Americans -- immigrants use more publicly funded services in childhood and old age, but they make positive contributions as working adults. In addition, the majority of immigrants pay taxes and add revenue for some services -- such as national defense and interest on the federal debt -- for which they do not impose costs."

That's the same report. Also:

""Immigrants may be adding as much as $10 billion to the economy each year," said panel chair James P. Smith, senior economist at RAND Corp., Santa Monica, Calif. "It's true that some Americans are now paying more taxes because of immigration, and native-born Americans without high school educations have seen their wages fall slightly because of the competition sparked by lower-skilled, newly arrived immigrants. But the vast majority of Americans are enjoying a healthier economy as the result of the increased supply of labor and lower prices that result from immigration."

Incidentally, the NRC report was published in 1997--this isn't some new data. Or at least there was such a report in 1997 and I can find no references to a more recent one.