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Should immigration into the United States be limited? Immigrants are a large and growing factor in the stubborn level of poverty seen in the United States over the past two decades because newcomers to the country are more likely to be poor and to remain so longer than in the past, according to a new study. The report, to be released today by the Center for Immigration Studies, says the number of impoverished people in the nation's immigrant-headed households nearly tripled from 2.7 million in 1979 to 7.7 million in 1997. During that same period, the number of poor households headed by immigrants increased by 123 percent while the number of immigrant households increased by 68 percent, according to the study. The share of immigrants living in poverty rose from 15.5 percent to 21.8 percent, the report notes, a change that some analysts say holds troubling implications for the nation's future. About 12 percent of the nation's native-born population lives in poverty, a figure that has hardly changed in 20 years. "Each successive wave of immigrants is doing worse and worse," said Steven A. Camarota, the report's author. "Each wave of immigrants has a higher poverty rate, and a much larger share of their children will grow up in poverty." The report by the center, a Washington-based research group that advocates reduced immigration, uses information compiled in the 1980 and 1990 censuses, as well as information contained in the March 1998 Current Population Survey, to make its case that poverty in the United States is increasingly being driven by the nation's immigration policy. The report says immigrants are more likely to be poor because they have higher levels of unemployment, have lower education levels and have larger families than native-born families. And much of their economic slide has come despite the fact that the nation's economy has been in good shape for much of the past 20 years, the report notes. The report is rekindling the sharp-edged debate over whether high levels of immigration benefit the nation. The number of immigrants living in the United States has almost tripled since 1970, dramatically altering the nation's demographic and social mix because the vast majority of current immigrants are either Hispanic or Asian. Overall, immigrants now account for nearly 10 percent of the nation's residents, the highest level since the 1920s. About one in four Californians and one in three residents of New York are foreign-born.

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