Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Noah Smith

Immigrants Are a Fiscal Boon, Not a Burden

After a few years in America, the foreign-born pay more into the safety net than they take out.
Just ignore the evidence.

Just ignore the evidence.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Immigration restrictionists give a number of reasons why they want fewer people settling in the U.S. Most of these reasons don’t hold up under scrutiny. For example, the best available data says that immigrants don’t take native-born Americans’ jobs, or drive down their wages; indeed, it’s more likely, that skilled immigrants boost the earnings of the native-born. In the U.S. and in Canada, immigration tends to reduce crime. And both history and data show that in the U.S., immigrants assimilate successfully into the local culture and social fabric.

But there is one anti-immigration argument that sometimes does have merit. In countries with strong welfare states, immigrants can impose a large fiscal burden on the government. Governments in advanced countries tend to levy heavy taxes on the rich, and use these to pay for services for the poor, the old and the sick. If immigrants are disproportionately poor, old and sick, they will increase the tax burden, which could hurt the economy. That in turn could lead governments to cut welfare benefits, making life harder for the native-born who need help.
QuickTake Skilled Immigrants