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US Benefits From Foreign-Born
from American Immigration Law Foundation

Population Survey Supports the Contributions of Immigrants

Immigrants represent less of the total United States population now than they did a hundred years ago. Regardless, they continue to make significant contributions to the economy and revitalize metropolitan areas.

In January 2001, the United States Census Bureau released the findings of its March 2000 Current Population Survey.1 According to the survey, foreign-born residents of the United States account for 10.4 percent of the total U.S. population, over three percent less than they did a hundred years ago.

Immigration over the years

In 1900, immigrants as a group accounted for 13.6 percent of the total U.S. population. By 1950 that number had dropped to 6.9 percent and continued to drop until 1970, when it reached a twentieth century low of 4.7 percent. Only within the past 3 decades has the number of immigrants in the United States begun to increase once again. Despite the growth from 4.7 percent in 1970 to 10.4 percent in 2000, immigrants are still well below 13.6 percent mark they set in 1900.

Immigrants are integrating faster than ever

Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt reported that preliminary 2000 census data shows that immigrants speak English sooner, get educated quicker and buy homes earlier.2 He commented that the pace at which new population groups are learning English is accelerating. In the past it has generally taken three generations to overcome the language barrier; however, the international distribution of English has now made it commonplace for immigrants to have a basic understanding of the language before they come to the U.S.

In addition, immigrant groups are catching up educationally much more rapidly than ever before. According to Mr. Prewitt, the Asian population will have higher levels of college graduates than the Anglo population when the final census data is released. Furthermore, the data shows that foreign immigrants that have become naturalized citizens are 5 percent more likely than natives to have a graduate degree.

Mr. Prewitt noted that the homeownership rate, a significant indicator for an individual's commitment to a country, is closely approaching the same for recent immigrants as for natives.

Economically, immigrants are a net benefit

A 1998 study conducted by the National Immigration Forum and the Cato Institute found that "in their first low-earning years in the United States, immigrants typically are net drains on the public coffers, but over time -usually after 10 to 15 years in the United States - they turn into net contributors."3

This study also determined that immigrant households and businesses provide $162 billion per year in tax revenue to federal, state and local governments. It estimated that since immigrants tend to be younger than natives, "the total net benefit (taxes paid over benefits received) to the Social Security system in today's dollars from continuing current levels of immigration is nearly $500 billion for the 1998-2022 period."

In addition, a 1997 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that during their lifetimes immigrants contribute roughly $1,800 per person more in taxes than they receive in benefits.4 Census data supports these studies by showing that 79.0 percent of immigrants, as opposed to 59.7 percent of natives, are between the working ages of 18 and 64.

Immigrants revitalize metropolitan areas

Census statistics indicate that only 5.1 percent of immigrants live in nonmetropolitan areas. In fact, in the 1990s, over 65 percent of all immigrants settled in just 10 cities, many of which actually lost population.5 Decreasing populations are generally followed by closing factories, urban flight and economic downturns.

A study released by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth and Citizens Bank clearly illustrates the fact that were it not for foreign immigration, the population of Massachusetts would have shrunk every decade since the 1970s. Even more important, since the mid-1980s foreign immigrants have accounted for 82 percent of the net growth in the state's labor force.6

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated, "Immigrants constantly infuse new life into our economy and culture. As any of the elected officials here today can attest, their cities and counties thrive precisely because of their vibrant immigrant communities. So this is not just a phenomenon in New York City but a national phe-nomenon."7

"Immigrants constantly infuse new life into our economy
and culture. As any of the elected officials here today
can attest, their cities and counties thrive precisely
because of their vibrant immigrant communities."

-- New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani


Throughout the history of the United States, immi-grants have played a stabilizing role in our economy and growth. As the United States Economy expands, its need for more workers fuels immigration and when growth tapers off, so does the level of immigration.

As Americans migrate from metropolitan cities to the suburbs and rural areas, immigrants replace them and maintain the factories and businesses that would otherwise have to cut production or close. Despite the fact that foreign immigrants represent 10 percent of the total U.S. population, they fill a vital capacity that enables U.S. Industry to grow and expand.

Prepared February 2001


1 U.S. Census Bureau, "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States." January 2001

2 "Census finds immigrants blending in faster, easier," USA Today, December 27, 2000

3 Stephen Moore, "A Fiscal Portrait of the Newest Americans." Washington, DC: National Immigration Forum and Cato Institute, 1998

4 James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1997

5 U.S. Census Bureau, "State Population Estimates and Demographic Components of Population Change: Annual Time-Series, April 1, 1990 to July 1, 1999." June 22, 2000

6 "The Changing Workforce: Immigrants and the New Economy in Massachusetts." Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth and Citizens Bank. November 1999

7 Mayor

About The Author

The American Immigration Law Foundation was established in 1987 as a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational and service organization. The Foundation's mission is to promote understanding among the general public of immigration law and policy, through education, policy analysis, and support to litigators. AILF is governed by a Board of Directors and a Board of Trustees.

Working closely with leading immigration experts throughout the country, AILF has established three core program areas: the Legal Action Center, the Public Education Program, and an Exchange Visitor Program. Through these programs, the Foundation sponsors numerous awards programs, publishes policy reports, engages in impact litigation, and provides policymakers and the public with complete and accurate information about the benefits of immigration.

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