Trump Fell For Right-Wing Media's Misleading Spin On A Study About Immigration
A September 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits over time, but right-wing media cherry-picked and distorted the findings to claim that immigrants “drain the government,” a claim that President Donald Trump repeated in his February 28 speech to Congress.
Trump Cites NAS To Claim That Immigrants Cost Taxpayers “Billions Of Dollars A Year”
Trump: “According To The National Academy Of Sciences, Our Current Immigration System Costs American Taxpayers Many Billions Of Dollars A Year.” Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Trump misinterpreted the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, claiming that lower-skilled immigrants cost “American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year,” in order to propose “adopting a merit-based system” of immigration. From Time magazine’s transcript of the February 28 speech:
It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.
Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families –- including immigrant families –- enter the middle class.
I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws. [Time, 2/28/17]
But Reporting Shows That The NAS Study Actually Finds That Immigrants Pay More Taxes Than They Receive In Benefits
Wash. Post: Trump’s Statement “Is At Odds With Some Of The Report’s Most Important Findings.” The Washington Post fact-checked Trump’s claim, noting that the study’s "conclusion, that current immigrants and their descendants may end up paying far more to the government than they get out of it, seems to undermine Trump's claim that the current immigration system would impose billions in costs to ‘America's taxpayers.’” From the March 1 article:
That statement, however, is at odds with some of the report's most important findings.
Trump is correct that the report did find that current immigrants receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes. In 2013, for example, the authors of the report calculated that the government spent $279 billion more on first-generation immigrants than they paid in taxes. But over time, the report projects, immigrants and have the opposite effect on the budget deficit, saying a recent immigrant and her descendants could be — over a 75-year period — expected to pay an average of as much as $259,000 more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.
That conclusion, that current immigrants and their descendants may end up paying far more to the government than they get out of it, seems to undermine Trump's claim that the current immigration system would impose billions in costs to “America's taxpayers.”
The forecast that immigrants could ultimately improve the government's bottom line undermines Trump's claim that the current system is hugely costly for taxpayers — many of whom are themselves immigrants. [The Washington Post, 3/1/17]
NPR: The NAS Study Found That “The Children Of Immigrants … Are Among The ‘Strongest Economic And Fiscal Contributors In The U.S. Population.’” NPR annotated Trump’s speech, adding context to Trump’s cherry-picked claim and noting that the study found that “the children of immigrants ... are among the ‘strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.’” From the February 28 NPR article:
Trump appears to be referring to this study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences. It found that “the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small.” The study also found that first-generation immigrants are more costly to state and local governments. But the children of immigrants, on the other hand, are among the “strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.” [NPR, 2/28/17]
NY Times: The NAS Study Found “‘Little To No Effects On Overall Wages And Employment Of Native-Born Workers In The Longer Term.’” The New York Times reported on the NAS study when it was first released, noting that the authors “‘found little to no negative effects [of immigration] on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.’” The Times article went on to explain that “by the second generation … , immigrants, with improved education and taxpaying ability, become a benefit to government coffers, adding about $30 billion a year” and “by the third generation, immigrant families contribute about $223 billion a year to government finances.” From the September 21 report:
The report assembles research from 14 leading economists, demographers and other scholars, including some, like Marta Tienda of Princeton, who write favorably about the impacts of immigration and others who are skeptical of its benefits, like George J. Borjas, a Harvard economist. Here’s what the report says:
• “We found little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term,” said Francine D. Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University who led the group that produced the 550-page report.
• Some immigrants who arrived in earlier generations, but were still in the same low-wage labor markets as foreigners just coming to the country, earned less and had more trouble finding jobs because of the competition with newer arrivals.
• The first generation of newcomers generally cost governments more than they contribute in taxes, with most of the costs falling on state and local governments, mainly because of the expense of educating the children of immigrant families.
For those governments, total annual costs for first-generation immigrants are about $57 billion. But by the second generation in those families, immigrants, with improved education and taxpaying ability, become a benefit to government coffers, adding about $30 billion a year. By the third generation, immigrant families contribute about $223 billion a year to government finances. [The New York Times, 9/21/16]
Trump's Misleading Claim Comes From Right-Wing Media's Anti-Immigrant Spin On The NAS Data
Breitbart: “Immigrants Cost State And Local Taxpayers $57.4 Billion Per Year.” Anti-immigrant “alt-right” site Breitbart.com distorted the report’s findings, claiming, “Each immigrant costs state and local taxpayers roughly $1,600 more per year than the immigrant generates in taxes.” The article then went on an anti-immigrant spiral, concocting situations meant to mislead readers. For example, the report suggests that “whenever four unskilled immigrants from Central America get residency, Americans have to put aside almost $1 million to pay their costs over the next 75 years.” Breitbart also implied that the report was politicized, calling it “poorly produced” and saying that it “obscures the huge cost of immigration.” From the September 21 article:
Each immigrant costs state and local taxpayers roughly $1,600 more per year than the immigrant generates in taxes, the report notes. In total, the current annual net cost of first-generation immigrants — including the cost of educating their children — adds up to $57.4 billion per year, much of which is paid by state and local taxpayers.
The per-immigrant cost is roughly equal to tax surplus paid by one native-born American, which ranges from $1,300 to $1,700, says the report, titled “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration.”
So whenever four unskilled immigrants from Central America get residency, Americans have to put aside almost $1 million to pay their costs over the next 75 years. Since 2012, President Barack Obama has allowed roughly 400,000 migrants from Central America into the United States to seek Green Cards. Only a tiny percentage has been sent home.
The academies’ report has been finished for a few months, but its release has been delayed until late in the 2016 campaign. Supporters of immigration must hope journalists will cherrypick a few favorable numbers from the huge report, which also obscures the huge cost of immigration in a poorly produced 495-page report.
For example, the estimated costs of immigration paid by state and local taxpayers is hidden deep in the huge and hard-to-read report. [Breitbart, 9/21/16]
Wash. Times: The NAS Study Found That “Immigration Drains The Government.” Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times cherry-picked the NAS data to conclude, “Immigration drains the government, sapping as much as $296 billion a year from federal, state and local taxpayers while depressing wages, at least in the short run.” Dinan also quoted Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed an anti-immigrant hate group, to further misinterpret the findings and ignore the long-term benefits of immigration. From the September 21 article:
Immigration drains the government, sapping as much as $296 billion a year from federal, state and local taxpayers while depressing wages, at least in the short run, according to an authoritative study released Wednesday by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
The data show that immigrants take more in benefits than they pay in taxes.
“It reminds us, the big beneficiaries of immigrants are the immigrants themselves, and American business. The losers tend to be the poor,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who was one of the report’s official reviewers but was not part of the formal panel that wrote it. [The Washington Times, 9/21/16; Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed March 2017]
Newsmax: “Immigrants Take As Much As $296 Billion More In Benefits Than They Pay In Taxes.” Newsmax ignored the NAS study’s final conclusion that over time, immigrants contribute more in taxes than they take in benefits and instead focused on the effects of immigration during just a two-year period. The article eventually conceded that “the federal government sometimes came out in the plus” and that “by the third generation … immigrants and their families boost government finances,” but it also insisted that in “the best case” scenario, immigration results in “an overall $43 billion loss.” From the Newsmax report:
Immigrants take as much as $296 billion more in benefits than they pay in taxes, according to a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, The Washington Times reports.
But the National Academy study tried out eight different scenarios with varying factors, and in none of them was there a net benefit to the government, The Washington Times reports. Although the federal government sometimes came out in the plus, it was more than offset by heavy losses at the state and local levels, with the best case registering an overall $43 billion loss.
Only by the third generation did the study find that immigrants and their families boost government finances, depending on the assumptions in the varying scenarios. [Newsmax, 9/21/16]
Wash. Examiner Claims The NAS Study “Glosses Over The Economic Hit” Immigrants Impose On Americans. The Washington Examiner claims that the report “glosses over the economic hit from lost wages and welfare and economic costs” and “focuses on the positive impact” because it found that “immigration adds a $54.2 billion net benefit to the economy.” The study actually found that immigration had “little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.” The report also chides the report for using the terms “unauthorized” and “undocumented” more often than anti-immigrant slurs that would wrongly describe immigrants as “illegal.” [Washington Examiner, 9/21/16]