Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whether Latinos/Immigrants Contribute to Poverty in the U.S.

Things to ponder forwarded by friend and colleague at the University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. Roberto Calderón. -Dra. Valenzuela

Nota: The attached copy of two op-ed columns that appeared during the past few days in the pages of The Washington Post discuss in very specific yet distinctly opposing terms the question of whether the US Latino population, and especially its immigrant community, is contributing or not to the growth of poverty and lack of health insurance coverage in the United States. Both arguments, pro and con, are based on the reading of data that runs through 2006 presented in a recent government report released on August 28, 2007. For this report see, Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica Smith, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-233, U.S. Government Printing Office, August 2007), 78pp. The U.S. Census Bureau is an administrative unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce. To read or print a copy of this report go to the report's URL www.census.gov/prod/2007pubs/p60-233.pdf.

The conservative view in this debate, the "Yes" in response to our question was presented by Robert J. Samuelson, "Importing Poverty," The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 5, 2007, A21. His first paragraph states: "The government last week released its annual statistical report on poverty and household income. As usual, we -- meaning the public, the media and politicians -- missed a big part of the story. It is this: The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration. As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. This is not complicated, but it is widely ignored."

The liberal and more progressive view was issued by Robert Greenstein, "Misreading the Poverty Data," The Washington Post, Tuesday, September 18, 2007, A19. Greenstein is the executive director for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. His opening paragraph stated: "In his Sept. 5 op-ed, " Importing Poverty," Robert J. Samuelson assailed the Census Bureau, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the media for missing what he views as the core of the poverty story. When discussing the figures that the Census Bureau released Aug. 28, we all failed, he said, to explain that poverty "is increasingly a problem associated with immigration," driven by the large numbers of poor Hispanics entering the country....But a careful look at the data does not support Samuelson's narrow view of how immigrants in general, and Hispanic immigrants in particular, affect poverty trends."

Following then is the complete text of these two views on the matter before us as they appeared in the editorial pages of The Washington Post. Also, access the attached PDF which contains a copy of the report.

So in response to the question of whether Latino immigrants in the U.S. contribute to an increase in poverty, you too can study the data presented in the report and arrive at your set of conclusions. We think you'll find the points in the debate interesting and pertinent to the everyday things that we do, and certainly applicable to better understanding some parts of the the currently raging arguments back and forth over Mexican and Latino immigrants and their respective contributions to society in this country. With 45 million Latinos in the U.S. and counting (representing 15 percent of the nation's population) our communities are driving the national data. Who and what we are matters. This much is clear. Our economic and medical well-being to say the least is in the best interest of the nation. Share the reading with others, saber es poder.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Importing Poverty in The Washington Post

By Robert J. Samuelson
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; A21

The government last week released its annual statistical report on poverty and household income. As usual, we -- meaning the public, the media and politicians -- missed a big part of the story. It is this: The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration. As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. This is not complicated, but it is widely ignored.

The standard story is that poverty is stuck; superficially, the statistics support that. The poverty rate measures the share of Americans below the official poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,614 for a four-person household. Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent, down slightly from 12.6 percent in 2005 but higher than the recent low, 11.3 percent in 2000. It was also higher than the 11.8 percent average for the 1970s. So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.

It isn't. Look again at the numbers. In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty. That's the figure that translates into the 12.3 percent poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent. The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.

Consider: From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods.

Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty. The increase among Hispanics must be concentrated among immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as their American-born children. Yet, this story goes largely untold. Government officials didn't say much about immigration when briefing on the poverty and income reports. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group for the poor, both held briefings. Immigration was a common no-show.

Why is it important to get this story straight?

One reason is truthfulness. It's usually held that we've made little, if any, progress against poverty. That's simply untrue. Among non-Hispanic whites, the poverty rate may be approaching some irreducible minimum: people whose personal habits, poor skills, family relations or bad luck condemn them to a marginal existence. Among blacks, the poverty rate remains abysmally high, but it has dropped sharply since the 1980s. Moreover, taking into account federal benefits (food stamps, the earned-income tax credit) that aren't counted as cash income would further reduce reported poverty.

We shouldn't think that our massive efforts to mitigate poverty have had no effect. Immigration hides our grudging progress.

A second reason is that immigration affects government policy. By default, our present policy is to import poor people. This imposes strains on local schools, public services and health care. From 2000 to 2006, 41 percent of the increase in people without health insurance occurred among Hispanics. Paradoxically, many Hispanics are advancing quite rapidly. But assimilation -- which should be our goal -- will be frustrated if we keep adding to the pool of poor. Newcomers will compete with earlier arrivals. In my view, though some economists disagree, competition from low-skilled Hispanics also hurts low-skilled blacks.

We need an immigration policy that makes sense. My oft-stated belief is that legal immigration should favor the high-skilled over the low-skilled. They will assimilate quickest and aid the economy the most. As for present illegal immigrants, we should give most of them legal status, both as a matter of practicality and fairness. Many have been here for years and have American children. At the same time, we should clamp down on new illegal immigration through tougher border controls and employer sanctions.

Whatever one's views, any sensible debate requires accurate information. There's the rub. Among many analysts, journalists and politicians, it's politically or psychologically discomforting to discuss these issues candidly. Robert Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says his group focuses on short-term trends, where immigration's role isn't so apparent. Conveniently, that avoids antagonizing some of the center's supporters.

Journalists are also leery of making the connection. Fifty-four reporters signed up for the center's briefing last week. With one exception (me), none asked about immigration's effect on poverty or incomes. But the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and the facts won't vanish just because we ignore them.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/04/AR2007090401623.html

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Misreading the Poverty Data from the Washingtonpost.com

By Robert Greenstein
Tuesday, September 18, 2007; A19

In his Sept. 5 op-ed, " Importing Poverty," Robert J. Samuelson assailed the Census Bureau, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the media for missing what he views as the core of the poverty story. When discussing the figures that the Census Bureau released Aug. 28, we all failed, he said, to explain that poverty "is increasingly a problem associated with immigration," driven by the large numbers of poor Hispanics entering the country.

But a careful look at the data does not support Samuelson's narrow view of how immigrants in general, and Hispanic immigrants in particular, affect poverty trends.

The poverty rate in 2006 was 12.3 percent. If immigration had not increased, and immigrants and their family members comprised the same share of the population in 2006 as in 1993 (the first year for which these Census Bureau data are available), the poverty rate would be nearly the same, about 12 percent.

There is debate on whether immigration lowers the wages of natives -- and the research on that subject is mixed -- but even if it does, the added effect on the poverty rate would be small. Immigrants do experience more poverty than native-born citizens, but they are not driving the nation's poverty rate.

In addition, the overall drop in the poverty rate and the rise in national median income in 2006, compared with 2005, were driven by improvement among Hispanics. Hispanic poverty fell, and the median income of Hispanic households rose. Non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, by contrast, experienced no such improvement.

Indeed, since 2001, Hispanics have made considerably more progress against poverty than the other groups. Their poverty rate is lower than it was in 2000, before the last recession -- it stands at its lowest level on record -- while poverty rates for non-Hispanic whites and blacks remain well above their pre-recession levels.

Samuelson focused on longer-term trends and, in particular, on changes in the number of poor Hispanics since 1990, using Hispanics as a proxy for immigrants. But in doing so, he told only one side of the story.

In the 1990s, the number of poor Hispanics did increase substantially even as the number of non-Hispanic poor declined. So Hispanics accounted for the entire increase in the poverty population in that decade. But that's not true since 2000. The Pew Hispanic Center has found that newly arrived Hispanic immigrant workers were better educated and much less likely to be low-wage earners in 2005 than in 1995.

Moreover, even while the number of poor Hispanics rose markedly in the 1990s, the Hispanic poverty rate -- that is, the percentage of Hispanics in poverty -- fell, and it fell more than the poverty rate for the rest of the country. Since then, the Hispanic poverty rate has continued falling (except for temporary increases related to recessions), even as large numbers of new immigrants continue to enter the United States.

How could this be? How could the number of poor Hispanics rise but the percentage of Hispanics who are poor fall sharply? Because the Hispanic population is growing so quickly. Samuelson complained that there were 3.2 million more poor Hispanics in 2006 than in 1990. He did not mention that the number of non-poor Hispanics -- including doctors, teachers, small-business owners, waiters and members of the armed forces -- grew by 20 million over the same period. (And contrary to Samuelson's implication that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ignores poverty increases among Hispanics to avoid upsetting its supporters, we reported frequently in the 1990s on the rising numbers of poor Hispanics and the role of immigration in contributing to that increase.)

Nor was poverty the only issue on which Samuelson's focus was too narrow. He noted, correctly, that Hispanics accounted for 41 percent of the increase, since 2000, in the number of Americans who lack health insurance. That sounds alarming, until you realize that Hispanic population growth accounted for 51 percent of total U.S. population growth over this period.

In fact, Hispanics also accounted for 60 percent of the increase in the number of people with insurance. And the percentage of Hispanics who are uninsured grew more slowly than the percentage of non-Hispanics who lack insurance.

Poverty, race, ethnicity and immigration are complicated and controversial issues, and they arouse strong passions. That's all the more reason that we should be careful how we use data to tell a story. We should not oversimplify a complicated story, as the normally careful Samuelson has done here.

The writer is executive director of theCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities.

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/17/AR2007091701396.html

1 comment:

Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...

I can tell you right now that it's a serious methodological flaw to use Hispanics as a proxy (substitute) for immigrants. You simply can't collapse these categories and expect for your data to be truthful. In both analyses, what is lamentable is that neither do we get data on generational differences in outcomes given that immigrants' data are decidedly different and distinct from that of U.S.-born Hispanics. There are increasing studies on Latino immigrant entrepreneurship that also need to be considered since their rate of business ownership is highest within the Latino community itself. And within this group, Latina businesses are opening up at the highest rates. These studies would provide other information that would enhance the Bernstein rebuttal.