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Immigration and the Food Stamp Program

  • George J. Borjas

The growth of the welfare state in the past few decades coincided with the resurgence of large-scale immigration to the United States, adding a new and explosive question to the already contentious debate over immigration policy: Do immigrants "pay their way" in the welfare state? The available empirical evidence suggests that immigrant participation in cash benefit programs has risen dramatically since 1970. Congress reacted to this trend by enacting welfare reform legislation in 1996 that denied many types of means-tested assistance to non-citizens, including food stamps. Because of data constraints, much of the research analyzing immigrant participation in welfare programs investigates the extent to which immigrants enroll in cash benefit programs, with little attention being paid to the trends and determinants of immigrant participation in other programs. This paper uses data drawn from the decennial Censuses, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Current Population Surveys to analyze trends in immigrant participation in the Food Stamp Program. The study describes the differential trends in immigrant and native participation in the Food Stamp Program; explores the factors that cause these differential trends; and examines the extent to which immigrant participation in public assistance programs affects the propensity of the second generation to receive food stamps. The evidence suggests that the immigrant-native gap in participation rates in the Food Stamp Program widened until about 1995. Since 1995, there has been a decline in the number of both native and immigrant households that receive food stamps, but the decline has been steeper in the immigrant population. A large part of the gap in participation rates between immigrant and native households can be attributed to differences in socioeconomic characteristics between the two groups, particularly educational attainment. The evidence also indicates that immigrant households have much higher entry rates into the Food Stamp Program, but roughly the same exit rates. Finally, there is a strong link between the use of cash benefits in the immigrant generation and the use of food stamps in the second generation.

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Paper provided by Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research in its series JCPR Working Papers with number 121.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 2000
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Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:121
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  1. George J. Borjas & Glenn T. Sueyoshi, 1997. "Ethnicity and the Intergenerational Transmission of Welfare Dependency," NBER Working Papers 6175, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. George J. Borjas & Stephen J. Trejo, 1991. "Immigrant participation in the welfare system," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 44(2), pages 195-211, January.
  3. Stephen J. Trejo, 2003. "Intergenerational Progress of Mexican-Origin Workers in the U.S. Labor Market," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(3).
  4. George J. Borjas & Lynette Hilton, 1995. "Immigration and the Welfare State: Immigrant Participation in Means- Tested Entitlement Programs," NBER Working Papers 5372, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Francine D. Blau, 1991. "The Fertility of Immigrant Women: Evidence from High Fertility Source Countries," NBER Working Papers 3608, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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.
  7. George J. Borjas, 1992. "The Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 3972, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Robert J. LaLonde & Robert H. Topel, 1992. "The Assimilation of Immigrants in the U. S. Labor Market," NBER Chapters, in: Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 67-92 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Chiswick, Barry R, 1977. "Sons of Immigrants: Are They at an Earnings Disadvantage?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(1), pages 376-80, February.
  10. Borjas, George J, 1985. "Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(4), pages 463-89, October.
  11. George J. Borjas, 1991. "National Origin and the Skills of Immigrants in the Postwar Period," NBER Working Papers 3575, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Gary Solon & Mary Corcoran & Roger H. Gordon & Deborah Laren, 1987. "Sibling and Intergenerational Correlations in Welfare Program Participation," NBER Working Papers 2334, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Francine D. Blau, 1984. "The use of transfer payments by immigrants," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 37(2), pages 222-239, January.
  14. Gottschalk, Peter, 1990. "AFDC Participation across Generations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 367-71, May.
  15. Geoffrey Carliner, 1981. "Wage Differences by Language Group and the Market for Language Skills in Canada," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 16(3), pages 384-399.
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