Virtual Voices

The myth of immigrant healthcare costs

Immigration

Last week I examined two myths about immigration. We can see how our culture of political correctness put new clothes on old arguments. A century ago activists were calling for protecting "the quality of American citizenship from degradation through the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry." The vocabulary may have changed but many still do not wish to burden the country "with vast expenditures for the support of pauper, criminal, diseased, insane, and physically defective aliens."

So let us turn our attention to myth number three: Immigration is bankrupting us through additional healthcare costs.

Not really. While uninsured, low-skilled workers do visit emergency rooms, a report by the Rand Corporation found that they account for just 1.2 percent of public health costs while representing 5 percent of the workforce. In other words, being younger and healthier, immigrants under-use healthcare relative to the rest of the workforce.

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Those who try to reap political dividends through anti-immigrant rhetoric like to quote the findings of a late 1990s study by the National Research Council that the net present value of immigrants who have not finished high school is negative. They neglect to point out that second generation immigrants outperform their parents in both education and income.

Immigrants perform valuable services in agriculture, construction, cleaning, food preparation, etc. They keep prices low for millions of American consumers, boosting their real incomes. They work hard, save a lot, and keep profits higher, expanding our domestic investment opportunities. Their consumption increases demand for American goods, which opens more jobs for American workers.

We should also keep the following numbers in mind: A study by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise found that the rapidly growing population of illegal immigrants had cost North Carolina $61 million in 2005. At the same time, they had increased the state's GDP by $9 billion. A study by the Texas comptroller of public accounts revealed a similar picture for that year: 1.4 million immigrants added $504 million burden on the state and local governments while creating an output worth $17.7 billion.

Illegal immigration requires our attention. Milton Friedman, whose 100th birthday was celebrated around the world last night, pointed out: "Violence is one of the things you are very likely to get when you try to prevent a deal between people who have jobs to offer and people who are looking for jobs."

That's why it is probably a good idea to simplify the process of issuing H1B work visas. We could require that all new guest workers purchase insurance in their home countries for catastrophic health expenses before they travel to America. Immigrants' access to welfare could be restricted until they have contributed significantly to the local, state, and federal revenue. They and their employers should pay taxes like all law-abiding Americans.

But however you want to reform immigration laws, please remember-immigration is a goose that lays golden eggs. Let's not kill it because it occasionally poops on the lawn.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.

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