Living in the Shadows, or Government Dependents: Immigrants and Welfare in the United States

By Charles Weber. Harvard University. 

Are immigrants in the United States more likely to be enrolled in welfare programs than natives and how has this comparative usage changed over time? To address this question, I pool four panels from the 1990, 1991, 2001, and 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation and regress different measures of welfare usage on binary migrant variables as well as including time fixed-effects. I find three trends: first, there is no statistically significant difference between the welfare use of similar immigrants and natives, second, immigrant welfare use decreased after the enactment of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which is probably driven by great decreases in Medicaid use over that time period, and third, if Medicaid use is excluded from the measurement of welfare use, immigrants use more of the remaining programs than natives and at an increasing rate after PRWORA. I conclude by proposing several directions for future research.

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