Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The Washington Post fact checks this comment from President Trump's address last Tuesday:

"According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year."

The Post acknowledges that the National Academy of Sciences:

"found that in 2013, the total fiscal shortfall (calculated as the excess of government expenditures over taxes) was $279 billion for first-generation immigrants and $109 billion for the second generation. These figures represent deficits to the local, state and federal budgets combined. The White House said Trump was referring to these figures in the report."

But the Post gives Trump "Three Pinocchios" anyway because:

"there's a lot of other information in the study that gives context to these figures -- and shows that immigration has an overall positive impact on the U.S. economy in the long run. The report found that over 75 years, each immigrant represents $259,000 in net present value for federal, state and local governments."

Emphasis added (see below).*

In other words, the Post doesn't dispute Trump's claim about short-term fiscal drain but gives him a bad rating because the Post thinks the long-term impact is the more important measurement.

The Post is correct when it says:

"The 500-page report is detailed, and presents a range of estimates using a variety of economic assumptions. So anyone can pick one figure out of the report and present it with no context, or in a misleading way."

And the Post quotes some of the contributors to the report to provide what the Post believes is the proper context, particularly with regards to the importance of the 75-year estimates.

*But at least one contributor to the report - the economist George Borjas - strongly disagrees:

"I think there is an elephant in the room that the NAS report alludes to, but cannot bring itself to say out loud. So I will: All estimates of the long-run fiscal impact are useless!"

Emphasis in the original.

In Borjas' User's Guide to the report, he makes a couple of key points related to the 75-year estimate:

  • "Don't be fooled by the CBO 'experts' who claim to know how taxes and expenditures will evolve over the next 75 years. Those same experts couldn't even predict Obamacare enrollment just a few months ago. What do they really know about taxes and expenditures in the year 2075?"

  • "Regardless of scenario, it is obvious that low-skill immigrants impose a fiscal burden in the long run, but that immigrants with at least a college education are fiscally beneficial."

That last point bolster's the case for the merit-based system Trump was making when he referenced the NAS report - particularly if he takes the approach of the RAISE Act, which would prioritize nuclear family members and skills over extended-family ties.

Keep that in mind. For context.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Low-skilled Americans

Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:23pm EDT

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