The Heritage Foundation has released their study on a potential cost to existing US taxpayers of legalizing existing illegal aliens under the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform program. Andrew Stiles, writing for National Review Online, has provided a useful summary of that 100-page document.
Rather than commenting on the implications vis-à-vis immigration reform, though, I want to comment on the implications for us taxpayers with respect to the larger question of wealth redistribution in our country.
Stiles noted that
[t]he study seeks to calculate the total amount of taxpayer-funded benefits and services illegal immigrants would, if given legal status, consume over their lifetimes, compared with the amount they would contribute in taxes. The various benefits and services taken into account include direct benefits such as Social Security and Medicare, means-tested welfare programs such as food stamps and public housing, public education, and other services such as police and fire departments.
Stiles’ summary continued:
[O]nce formerly illegal immigrants become eligible for [means-tested welfare] programs, average fiscal deficits [of welfare payouts over tax collections] would rise to about $29,500 per household. During retirement, when former illegal immigrants, now permanent residents or citizens, would be eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits, the net cost to taxpayers would remain high, at around $22,700 per retiree per year.
In the aggregate,
[a]fter legalization, [the fiscal deficit]…would climb to $106 billion once households become eligible for welfare benefits, and would increase still further to around $160 billion during the retirement phase.
There are legitimate criticisms of this study as it applies to immigrants, mostly centered on the study being static rather than dynamic—for instance, now-legal immigrant contributions to our economy are not considered.
In the context of this post, though, the numbers are instructive, since there are no special welfare programs for immigrants, legal or otherwise: these are the programs in which American citizens of an economic status participate.
There are more than 50 million recipients of Medicaid benefits and more than 40 million food stamp recipients presently (yes, there’s overlap between these two groups). There are more than 100 million recipients of some form of welfare. With 11 million legalized immigrants getting $106 billion to $160 billion in annual welfare payments, it’s easy to wonder at the magnitude of the wealth redistribution aimed at our existing poor.
Think about the economic boon—to those poor and to the middle and upper classes—of that money staying in the private economy rather than being washed through government with its inherent inefficiencies and waste, even assuming only the best of intentions and effort by the bureaucrats administering the programs.
A sound economy, with maximal monies left in the hands of the earners, greatly reduces the moral and fiscal burdens on Americans, and it greatly reduces (though it does not eliminate) the need for, and cost of, welfare programs.