The Heritage Foundation’s argument on immigration is really about high school

The Heritage Foundation is out with a new report contending that illegal immigration imposes huge costs on U.S. taxpayers. You could easily read it as a treatise on Why Every American Kid Should Finish High School (And Then Keep Going).

The crux of the Heritage argument is this:

A Heritage study sees huge costs from immigration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A Heritage study sees huge costs from immigration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

1. Americans with a high school diploma or less receive a lot more benefit from government spending – including school for their kids, roads for their cars and transfer payments from social welfare programs – than they pay in taxes. That’s largely because those workers’ wages are so low.

2. More than half of immigrant households are headed by someone with a high school diploma or less.

3. Statistics suggest it is unlikely those immigrants will work their way up to higher-paying jobs even if they become citizens – and it is also unlikely that those immigrants’ children, even the ones who were born in America, will grow up to go to college.

4. Therefore, immigrants who have come to America without legal permission are likely to impose a net cost on taxpayers for generations to come.

“In reality,” Heritage authors Robert Rector and Jason Richwine write, “unlawful immigrants will be net tax consumers, placing a fiscal burden on other taxpayers not only in the first generation, but in the second generation as well.”

By the authors’ own logic, that same critique applies to any American, native- or foreign-born, who drops out of high school or doesn’t pursue higher education. Thus the broadest conclusions from the study aren’t about immigrants. They’re about the state of economic opportunity in the United States.

As the study puts it: “Many conservatives believe that if an individual has a job and works hard, he will inevitably be a net tax contributor (paying more in taxes than he takes in benefits). In our society, this has not been true for a very long time.”

Jim Tankersley is the editor of Storyline, where he explains complex public policies and illuminates their human impact.
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