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Welfare Reform and Immigrant Participation in the Supplemental Security Income Program


  • Paul S. Davies

    (Social Security Administration)

  • Michael J. Greenwood

    (University of Colorado at Boulder)


We examine the effect of the 1996 welfare reform legislation on participation in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program by immigrants. Although none of the immigrants on the SSI rolls before welfare reform lost eligibility, the potential exists for future impacts on the SSI caseload and the well-being of recent immigrants. We use microdata files from the Social Security Administration’s Continuous Work History Sample matched to administrative data on SSI participation for the period 1993 to 1999. We estimate simple models of SSI participation and compare our results to the existing literature. We then estimate a series of difference-in-differences models of SSI participation. These models compare SSI participation by immigrants relative to nativeborn individuals, and among affected immigrants relative to unaffected immigrants and native-born individuals, before and after welfare reform. Descriptive results indicate that the percentage of immigrants and natives receiving SSI decreased after welfare reform, but by a larger percentage for natives than for immigrants. The probability of SSI participation decreased after welfare reform for immigrants who were affected by the legislation relative to immigrants who were unaffected. The difference-in-differences estimate is positive for immigrants relative to otherwise similar natives, but the estimated effect among affected immigrants is about half as large as the effect for unaffected immigrants. When the sample is limited to low earners as a proxy for the SSI means test, the results are qualitatively unchanged but quantitatively much stronger. Authors’ Acknowledgements We are grateful to Ulyses Balderas for assisting with the collection of some data used here. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2004 Western Regional Science Association Annual Meeting, February 25-28, 2004, Maui, HI.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul S. Davies & Michael J. Greenwood, 2004. "Welfare Reform and Immigrant Participation in the Supplemental Security Income Program," Working Papers wp087, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp087

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jeffrey Grogger & Steven Haider & Jacob Klerman & Elizabeth Roth, 2003. "The Relationship Between the Economy and the Welfare Caseload: A Dynamic Approach," Working Papers 03-06, RAND Corporation.
    2. Borjas, George J. & Trejo, Stephen J., 1993. "National origin and immigrant welfare recipiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 325-344, March.
    3. Robert A. Moffitt, 1999. "The Effect of Pre-PRWORA Waivers on AFDC Caseloads and Female Earnings, Income, and Labor Force Behavior," JCPR Working Papers 89, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    4. Francine D. Blau, 1984. "The Use of Transfer Payments by Immigrants," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 37(2), pages 222-239, January.
    5. David N. Figlio & James P. Ziliak, 1999. "Welfare Reform, the Business Cycle, and the Decline in AFDC Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 77, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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    Cited by:

    1. Neeraj Kaushal, 2010. "Elderly immigrants' labor supply response to supplemental security income," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(1), pages 137-162.

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