The illegal alien lobby frequently touts the statistic that illegal alien workers contribute $7 billion each year to Social Security. They fail to note that for every $1 illegal aliens contribute to Social Security, they withdraw $10 in other government benefits.
The New York Times wrote in a 2005 article, “The estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.” The Heritage Foundation addressed this contention in its 2007 report, The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer:
It is true that low-skill immigrant households pay, on average, around $2,900 per year in Social Security (FICA) taxes; however, the average Social Security and Medicare benefits they receive actually exceed the FICA taxes paid. Of course, low-skill immigrant households receive many other government benefits as well, receiving ten dollars in total government benefits for each dollar they pay in Social Security taxes.
Eighty percent of illegal aliens are low-skilled.1 For every $1 they contribute to Social Security, low-skilled illegal aliens withdraw $10 in total government benefits. Just looking at one federal benefits program, Social Security, is sure to lead a person to a wrong answer because there are more than 60 different federal benefit programs. Illegal aliens are not eligible for many of these programs, but their U.S. born children are, or one person in the household is legal and can get benefits that help everybody in the household, or the individuals use fraudulent documents to obtain benefits.
It is easy to grasp how it is impossible for illegal aliens to cover the costs they impose on society by their modest contribution to social security. The New York Times article profiled Angel Martinez, an illegal alien from Mexico. He worked up to 70 hours a week for wages varying between $8.50 to $12.75 per hour. The article said he paid $2,000 per year in Social Security.
But for every Angel Martinez, there is the Gonzalez family of illegal aliens. The Gonzalez family was appealing enough to be featured on the reality television show “30 Days” in the episode titled “Immigration.” (The producers left off the word, “Illegal.”) This family of 2 adults and 5 children resided in Los Angeles, and had one wage earner who earned less than $15,000 per year. Simple common sense says that $15,000 does not go very far in supporting 7 people in Los Angeles. The rest of the cost falls upon the taxpayers and charitable assistance. In Los Angeles, the per pupil, per year expenditure on public education in 2001-2002 was $13,074. If each of the five children goes to school for 13 years (K-12), the cost to educate the children is $850,000, all of it paid for by California taxpayers.
This one family needs 425 Angel Martinez’s contributing to social security to make up for the educational cost imposed on the United States by their children. The Heritage Foundation study also notes that illegal alien children becoming rocket scientists or internet tycoons is extremely rare. Unless the Gonzalez children attain an upper middle class salary, it is unlikely that during their entire working lives they will pay enough in taxes to repay the United States for the cost of their upbringing, and the Gonzalez children will in turn have children of their own, who will probably go into the public schools.
1 - The Heritage Foundation found that 60% of illegal aliens have less than a high school diploma, and the Pew Hispanic Center found that figure to 50%. Splitting the difference between Heritage and Pew gives 55% of illegal aliens with less than a high school diploma. Both organizations find that 25% of illegal aliens have a high school diploma as their highest education. 55% + 25% is 80% of illegal aliens have a high school diploma or less. Sources: Jeffrey S. Passel, Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics, Pew Hispanic Center, June 14, 2005, see chart on page 23, and Robert E. Rector and Christine Kim, The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer, The Heritage Foundation Special Report #14, May 22, 2007 at footnote 21.