Welfare: A Magnet for Migration or Not?

By Schoolland, Ken | Journal of Private Enterprise, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Welfare: A Magnet for Migration or Not?


Schoolland, Ken, Journal of Private Enterprise


People hold contrasting opinions of immigrants. Some people are concerned that immigrants will come to America to take advantage of generous welfare benefits. Others more sympathetic to immigrants see them as energetic people who are likely to work hard, to open their own businesses, and to remain independent of public support.

Is it correct to suppose that there is an association of inmigration and the generosity of welfare? If people move in order to qualify for generous welfare benefits, then one might expect to see migration patterns of native and foreign born people in America moving into states with high welfare benefits and way from states with low welfare benefits.

Evidence presented here does not support this conclusion. It would appear that the correlation of in-migration and generous welfare benefits is negative rather than positive.

High welfare correlates with out-migration

Take Hawaii, for example. According to Michael Tanner and Stephen Moore of the CATO Institute (Moore), the six basic welfare benefits in Hawaii (6 among a possible 77 welfare programs) could have provided a mother and two children with the equivalent of a pre-tax income of $36,000 or a wage of $17.50 an hour, the highest benefits in the nation. This, however, is not associated with net domestic inmigration to Hawaii. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the decade of the 1990's, Hawaii experienced net domestic out-migration to other states of both the native born and the foreign born population.

Among the ten states that provided the greatest levels of welfare, there was a net out-migration of 1,567,872 native born and 439,165 foreign born individuals.1 Eight of the ten highest welfare states experienced out-migration of the native born.

Among the ten states with the greatest levels of welfare, only two experienced a modest degree of in-migration by the native born population, Virginia and Rhode Island. Bordering on Virginia is Washington, DC, a district with relatively higher welfare benefits than Virginia that experienced net domestic out-migration of the native born population. Thus, it is possible that people moving into Virginia were coming from neighboring higher welfare in order to go to a state with relatively lower welfare.

The same association can be found in the case of Rhode Island. Rhode Island borders on Connecticut and Massachusetts, two states with relatively higher welfare benefits than Rhode Island and two states that experienced net domestic out-migration of the native born population. …

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