Study Shows Immigrants Give More to Medicare Than They Take Out
By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2013
As the United States Congress debates an immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants (which includes about 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants), Harvard researchers have published a study that challenges widely-held notions of the relationship between immigrants and the U.S.’s entitlement programs.
Published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs, the study shows that between 2002 and 2009, immigrant contributions to the Medicare program produced a surplus of more than $100 billion. In 2009, for example, immigrant payments into Medicare accounted for 14.7 percent of the total budget, while immigrants only used 7.9 percent, creating a surplus of $13.8 billion. This contrasts with the $30.9 billion deficit generated by the U.S.-born population in the same year. The study argues that because immigrant contributions tend to come from a younger, healthier workforce that simply doesn’t need Medicare services yet, their payments into the program are essential in balancing out the disproportionate use of its benefits by U.S.-born retirees. Thus, “Policies that restrict immigration may deplete Medicare’s financial resources.”
Lead author Leah Zallman and her team of co-authors drew some criticism for focusing only on a portion of Medicare, and, as the New York Times points out, it is also not clear how much of the surplus is generated by illegal immigrants who are not eligible for Medicare benefits even though they are paying into the program.
Still, similar studies on other programs have shown the same fact with regard to Social Security, where immigrants generated a $12 billion surplus according to the Social Security Administration itself. Studies like these seem to pave the way in convincing immigration reform critics of the economic benefit of allowing illegal residents to become citizens, which already has support in the Irish-American community and at the White House.