Immigrant children are not swelling U.S. welfare rolls

March 20, 1997

ANN ARBOR—First- and second-generation Latino immigrant children are no more likely than the children of U.S. citizens to receive food stamps, AFDC and other forms of public assistance, according to a University of Michigan study to be presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Washington, D.C., on March 27.

“Since Latino families tend to have completed less schooling and to have more children than native families, the perception is widespread that Latino immigrants are heavy users of public assistance,” says Sandra L. Hofferth, a U-M sociologist who conducted the study.

“This study, the first to focus on families with children, shows that this perception is wrong.”

For the study, Hofferth analyzed data on approximately 16,000 children, from the 1990 through 1995 waves of the nationally representative Panel Study of Income Dynamics, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research.

She analyzed how immigration influenced whether a child’s family received public assistance, and examined differences among Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants. Among the key findings:

—About half the Mexican-American children were not immigrants but were born to native-born parents.

—Both first- and second-generation Latino immigrants were significantly less likely to receive AFDC and supplemental Security Income than comparable children of citizens.

—Second-generation Latino immigrant children were also less likely than comparable children of U.S. citizens to reside in families receiving non-cash assistance such as housing and heating assistance.

—About 14 percent of white children received either cash or non-cash assistance in a given year, Hofferth found. Children from all racial and ethnic minority groups were more likely than white children to receive such assistance. But second-generation immigrant children were much less likely than comparable third- generation children to receive such assistance.

There were substantial differences among the three ethnic groups. First- and second-generation Mexican-American children were less likely to receive cash forms of public assistance than Puerto-Rican, Cuban-American or white American children. But third-generation Mexican-American children were as likely as the other groups to receive food stamps and help with housing and heating costs.

Black and Puerto Rican children, all of whom were U.S. citizens, were much more likely than white children to receive every kind of public assistance. How recently their families arrived in this country made no difference, Hofferth found.

“Their disadvantaged socioeconomic status, not their status as more or less recent immigrants, is the key to their receipt of public assistance.

“It isn’t immigrants with large families who place heavy demands on U.S. funds for public assistance,” Hofferth concludes. “Rather, it is America’s failure to integrate minority racial and ethnic groups into mainstream American society.”

Funding for the Panel Study of Income Dynamics is provided by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Phone: (313) 647-4416

Population Association of AmericaPanel Study of Income DynamicsInstitute for Social Research