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CIS Study: Immigration has Added 43 Million to U.S. Since 1990

author Published by Chris Pierce

According to a new analysis of government data by the Center for Immigration Studies, immigration between 1990 and 2017 added approximately 43 million people to the population of the United States – including both immigrants and their progeny. However, the study finds that this increase in the total population had a minimal impact on the share of the population that is of working age. This is because immigration added to both the working-age population and those outside of the working-age population in nearly equal proportions. Also, post-1990 immigration had a somewhat more significant impact on the ratio of workers to retirees. However, raising the retirement age by one year has as significant an effect on the ratio as do the nearly 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their progeny.

Steven Camarota, the Center’s director of research and co-author of the report, said:

Looking at the large and relatively young population of post-1990 immigrants and their progeny is a good test of the often-cited argument that immigration can solve the problem of America getting older. However, this analysis demonstrates something researchers have long known: Immigration can add a lot of people to the population – but it is no fix for an aging society.

Some of the major findings are listed below.

  • In 2017, there were 30.8 million post-1990 immigrants (legal and illegal) and 12 million of their U.S.-born children and grandchildren in the country — 42.8 million in total, or one in eight U.S. residents.
  • While adding significantly to the population, the presence of post-1990 immigrants and their progeny only increased the working-age (16-64) share of the population from 63.9 percent to 64.4 percent.
  • The working-age share can be seen as the best way to think about the ability of society to pay for government or support the economy, as both children and the elderly generally do not work and are supported by the labor of others.
  • Immigration had a small impact on the working-age share because immigrants arrive at all ages, grow older over time, and have children, so they added to both the working-age and those too old or too young to work in nearly equal proportions.
  • Even if the number of post-1990 immigrants and their offspring were doubled to almost 86 million—about one in four residents—it would still only have raised the working-age share to 64.8 percent — 0.9 percentage points higher than if there had been no immigration.
  • Excluding children, and looking only at the number of working-age people (16-64) relative to those of retirement age shows that post-1990-immigration increased the ratio from 3.7 potential workers per potential retiree to 4.1.
  • If the retirement age was raised by just one year, assuming no immigration, the ratio of workers to retirees would be 4.1, matching the effect of post-1990 immigration.
  • Increasing the retirement age by two years it would have increased the worker to retiree ratio to 4.5 in 2017, significantly more than the 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their children.
  • While this analysis is focused on all immigrants (legal and illegal), we roughly estimate that 32 percent (13.8 million) of the people immigration has added to the country since 1990 are illegal immigrants or their progeny. Since legal and illegal immigration together has a modest impact on the working-age share or the worker-to-retiree ratio, the impact of illegal immigration by itself is very small.
  • In terms of using immigration as a way to pay for entitlement programs, it must also be pointed out that a large share of post-1990 immigrants and their children struggle, living in or near poverty and using welfare programs at relatively high rates, makes it difficult for them to generate a fiscal surplus to pay for social insurance programs.
  • In 2017, 45 percent of households headed by post-1990 immigrants or their adult children used one or more major welfare programs, compared to 26 percent of native-headed households. The rates of poverty or near poverty for post-1990 immigrants and their children were 50 to 60 percent higher than that of natives.

For the full report, please visit

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