Immigrants and Welfare: The Impact of Welfare Reform on America's Newcomers

Russell Sage Foundation
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The lore of the immigrant who comes to the United States to take advantage of our welfare system has a long history in America's collective mythology, but it has little basis in fact. The so-called problem of immigrants on the dole was nonetheless a major concern of the 1996 welfare reform law, the impact of which is still playing out today. While legal immigrants continue to pay taxes and are eligible for the draft, welfare reform has severely limited their access to government supports in times of crisis. Edited by Michael Fix, Immigrants and Welfare rigorously assesses the welfare reform law, questions whether its immigrant provisions were ever really necessary, and examines its impact on legal immigrants' ability to integrate into American society. Immigrants and Welfare draws on fields from demography and law to developmental psychology. The first part of the volume probes the politics behind the welfare reform law, its legal underpinnings, and what it may mean for integration policy. Contributor Ron Haskins makes a case for welfare reform's ultimate success but cautions that excluding noncitizen children (future workers) from benefits today will inevitably have serious repercussions for the American economy down the road. Michael Wishnie describes the implications of the law for equal protection of immigrants under the U.S. Constitution. The second part of the book focuses on empirical research regarding immigrants' propensity to use benefits before the law passed, and immigrants' use and hardship levels afterwards. Jennifer Van Hook and Frank Bean analyze immigrants' benefit use before the law was passed in order to address the contested sociological theories that immigrants are inclined to welfare use and that it slows their assimilation. Randy Capps, Michael Fix, and Everett Henderson track trends before and after welfare reform in legal immigrants' use of the major federal benefit programs affected by the law. Leighton Ku looks specifically at trends in food stamps and Medicaid use among noncitizen children and adults and documents the declining health insurance coverage of noncitizen parents and children. Finally, Ariel Kalil and Danielle Crosby use longitudinal data from Chicago to examine the health of children in immigrant families that left welfare. Even though few states took the federal government's invitation with the 1996 welfare reform law to completely freeze legal immigrants out of the social safety net, many of the law's most far-reaching provisions remain in place and have significant implications for immigrants. Immigrants and Welfare takes a balanced look at the politics and history of immigrant access to safety-net supports and the ongoing impacts of welfare. Copublished with the Migration Policy Institute
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About the author

MICHAEL E. FIX is senior vice president and director of studies at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and co-director of MPI's National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. CONTRIBUTORS: Michael E. Fix, Frank D. Bean, Randy Capps, Danielle A. Crosby, Ron Haskins, Everett Henderson, Ariel Kalil, Neeraj Kaushal, Leighton Ku, Jennifer Van Hook, and Michael J. Wishnie.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
Nov 25, 2009
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Pages
244
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ISBN
9781610446228
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Microeconomics
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Social Science / Emigration & Immigration
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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According to the American dream, hard work and a good education can lift people from poverty to success in the "land of opportunity." The unskilled immigrants who came to the United States from southern, central, and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely realized that vision. Within a few generations, their descendants rose to the middle class and beyond. But can today's unskilled immigrant arrivals—especially Mexicans, the nation's most numerous immigrant group—expect to achieve the same for their descendants? Social scientists disagree on this question, basing their arguments primarily on how well contemporary arrivals are faring. In Italians Then, Mexicans Now, Joel Perlmann uses the latest immigration data as well as 100 years of historical census data to compare the progress of unskilled immigrants and their American-born children both then and now. The crucial difference between the immigrant experience a hundred years ago and today is that relatively well-paid jobs were plentiful for workers with little education a hundred years ago, while today's immigrants arrive in an increasingly unequal America. Perlmann finds that while this change over time is real, its impact has not been as strong as many scholars have argued. In particular, these changes have not been great enough to force today's Mexican second generation into an inner-city "underclass." Perlmann emphasizes that high school dropout rates among second-generation Mexicans are alarmingly high, and are likely to have a strong impact on the group's well-being. Yet despite their high dropout rates, Mexican Americans earn at least as much as African Americans, and they fare better on social measures such as unwed childbearing and incarceration, which often lead to economic hardship. Perlmann concludes that inter-generational progress, though likely to be slower than it was for the European immigrants a century ago, is a reality, and could be enhanced if policy interventions are taken to boost high school graduation rates for Mexican children. Rich with historical data, Italians Then, Mexicans Now persuasively argues that today's Mexican immigrants are making slow but steady socio-economic progress and may one day reach parity with earlier immigrant groups who moved up into the heart of the American middle class. Copublished with the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
Anti-immigrant sentiment reached a fever pitch after 9/11, but its origins go back much further. Public rhetoric aimed at exposing a so-called invasion of Latino immigrants has been gaining ground for more than three decades—and fueling increasingly restrictive federal immigration policy. Accompanied by a flagging U.S. economy—record-level joblessness, bankruptcy, and income inequality—as well as waning consumer confidence, these conditions signaled one of the most hostile environments for immigrants in recent memory. In Brokered Boundaries, Douglas Massey and Magaly Sánchez untangle the complex political, social, and economic conditions underlying the rise of xenophobia in U.S. society. The book draws on in-depth interviews with Latin American immigrants in metropolitan New York and Philadelphia and—in their own words and images—reveals what life is like for immigrants attempting to integrate in anti-immigrant times. What do the social categories "Latino" and "American" actually mean to today's immigrants? Brokered Boundaries analyzes how first- and second-generation immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean navigate these categories and their associated meanings as they make their way through U.S. society. Massey and Sánchez argue that the mythos of immigration, in which newcomers gradually shed their respective languages, beliefs, and cultural practices in favor of a distinctly American way of life, is, in reality, a process of negotiation between new arrivals and native-born citizens. Natives control interactions with outsiders by creating institutional, social, psychological, and spatial mechanisms that delimit immigrants' access to material resources and even social status. Immigrants construct identities based on how they perceive and respond to these social boundaries. The authors make clear that today's Latino immigrants are brokering boundaries in the context of unprecedented economic uncertainty, repressive anti-immigrant legislation, and a heightening fear that upward mobility for immigrants translates into downward mobility for the native-born. Despite an absolute decline in Latino immigration, immigration-related statutes have tripled in recent years, including many that further shred the safety net for legal permanent residents as well as the undocumented. Brokered Boundaries shows that, although Latin American immigrants come from many different countries, their common reception in a hostile social environment produces an emergent Latino identity soon after arrival. During anti-immigrant times, however, the longer immigrants stay in America, the more likely they are to experience discrimination and the less likely they are to identify as Americans.
An in-depth look at the challenges undocumented immigrants face as they raise children in the U.S. There are now nearly four million children born in the United States who have undocumented immigrant parents. In the current debates around immigration reform, policymakers often view immigrants as an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but the issue has a very real human dimension. Immigrant parents without legal status are raising their citizen children under stressful work and financial conditions, with the constant threat of discovery and deportation that may narrow social contacts and limit participation in public programs that might benefit their children. Immigrants Raising Citizens offers a compelling description of the everyday experiences of these parents, their very young children, and the consequences these experiences have on their children's development. Immigrants Raising Citizens challenges conventional wisdom about undocumented immigrants, viewing them not as lawbreakers or victims, but as the parents of citizens whose adult productivity will be essential to the nation's future. The book's findings are based on data from a three-year study of 380 infants from Dominican, Mexican, Chinese, and African American families, which included in-depth interviews, in-home child assessments, and parent surveys. The book shows that undocumented parents share three sets of experiences that distinguish them from legal-status parents and may adversely influence their children's development: avoidance of programs and authorities, isolated social networks, and poor work conditions. Fearing deportation, undocumented parents often avoid accessing valuable resources that could help their children's development—such as access to public programs and agencies providing child care and food subsidies. At the same time, many of these parents are forced to interact with illegal entities such as smugglers or loan sharks out of financial necessity. Undocumented immigrants also tend to have fewer reliable social ties to assist with child care or share information on child-rearing. Compared to legal-status parents, undocumented parents experience significantly more exploitive work conditions, including long hours, inadequate pay and raises, few job benefits, and limited autonomy in job duties. These conditions can result in ongoing parental stress, economic hardship, and avoidance of center-based child care—which is directly correlated with early skill development in children. The result is poorly developed cognitive skills, recognizable in children as young as two years old, which can negatively impact their future school performance and, eventually, their job prospects. Immigrants Raising Citizens has important implications for immigration policy, labor law enforcement, and the structure of community services for immigrant families. In addition to low income and educational levels, undocumented parents experience hardships due to their status that have potentially lifelong consequences for their children. With nothing less than the future contributions of these children at stake, the book presents a rigorous and sobering argument that the price for ignoring this reality may be too high to pay.
Beginning in the 1990s, immigrants to the United States increasingly bypassed traditional gateway cites such as Los Angeles and New York to settle in smaller towns and cities throughout the nation. With immigrant communities popping up in so many new places, questions about ethnic diversity and immigrant assimilation confront more and more Americans. New Faces in New Places, edited by distinguished sociologist Douglas Massey, explores today's geography of immigration and examines the ways in which native-born Americans are dealing with their new neighbors. Using the latest census data and other population surveys, New Faces in New Places examines the causes and consequences of the shift toward new immigrant destinations. Contributors Mark Leach and Frank Bean examine the growing demand for low-wage labor and lower housing costs that have attracted many immigrants to move beyond the larger cities. Katharine Donato, Charles Tolbert, Alfred Nucci, and Yukio Kawano report that the majority of Mexican immigrants are no longer single male workers but entire families, who are settling in small towns and creating a surge among some rural populations long in decline. Katherine Fennelly shows how opinions about the growing immigrant population in a small Minnesota town are divided along socioeconomic lines among the local inhabitants. The town's leadership and professional elites focus on immigrant contributions to the economic development and the diversification of the community, while working class residents fear new immigrants will bring crime and an increased tax burden to their communities. Helen Marrow reports that many African Americans in the rural south object to Hispanic immigrants benefiting from affirmative action even though they have just arrived in the United States and never experienced historical discrimination. As Douglas Massey argues in his conclusion, many of the towns profiled in this volume are not equipped with the social and economic institutions to help assimilate new immigrants that are available in the traditional immigrant gateways of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And the continual replenishment of the flow of immigrants may adversely affect the nation's perception of how today's newcomers are assimilating relative to previous waves of immigrants. New Faces in New Places illustrates the many ways that communities across the nation are reacting to the arrival of immigrant newcomers, and suggests that patterns and processes of assimilation in the twenty-first century may be quite different from those of the past. Enriched by perspectives from sociology, anthropology, and geography New Faces in New Places is essential reading for scholars of immigration and all those interested in learning the facts about new faces in new places in America.
Migration between Mexico and the United States is part of a historical process of increasing North American integration. This process acquired new momentum with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which lowered barriers to the movement of goods, capital, services, and information. But rather than include labor in this new regime, the United States continues to resist the integration of the labor markets of the two countries. Instead of easing restrictions on Mexican labor, the United States has militarized its border and adopted restrictive new policies of immigrant disenfranchisement. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors examines the devastating impact of these immigration policies on the social and economic fabric of the Mexico and the United States, and calls for a sweeping reform of the current system. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors shows how U.S. immigration policies enacted between 1986–1996—largely for symbolic domestic political purposes—harm the interests of Mexico, the United States, and the people who migrate between them. The costs have been high. The book documents how the massive expansion of border enforcement has wasted billions of dollars and hundreds of lives, yet has not deterred increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants from heading north. The authors also show how the new policies unleashed a host of unintended consequences: a shift away from seasonal, circular migration toward permanent settlement; the creation of a black market for Mexican labor; the transformation of Mexican immigration from a regional phenomenon into a broad social movement touching every region of the country; and even the lowering of wages for legal U.S. residents. What had been a relatively open and benign labor process before 1986 was transformed into an exploitative underground system of labor coercion, one that lowered wages and working conditions of undocumented migrants, legal immigrants, and American citizens alike. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors offers specific proposals for repairing the damage. Rather than denying the reality of labor migration, the authors recommend regularizing it and working to manage it so as to promote economic development in Mexico, minimize costs and disruptions for the United States, and maximize benefits for all concerned. This book provides an essential "user's manual" for readers seeking a historical, theoretical, and substantive understanding of how U.S. policy on Mexican immigration evolved to its current dysfunctional state, as well as how it might be fixed.
“Ideas of economic democracy are very much in the air, as they should be, with increasing urgency in the midst of today’s serious crises. Richard Wolff’s constructive and innovative ideas suggest new and promising foundations for much more authentic democracy and sustainable and equitable development, ideas that can be implemented directly and carried forward. A very valuable contribution in troubled times.”—Noam Chomsky

"Probably America's most prominent Marxist economist."—The New York Times

Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid-for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid, and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve.

One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. The solution requires the institution of genuine economic democracy, starting with workers managing their own workplaces, as the basis for a genuine political democracy.

Here Richard D. Wolff lays out a hopeful and concrete vision of how to make that possible, addressing the many people who have concluded economic inequality and politics as usual can no longer be tolerated and are looking for a concrete program of action.

Richard D. Wolff is professor of Economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently a visiting professor at the New School University in New York. Wolff is the author of many books, including Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. He hosts the weekly hour-long radio program Economic Update on WBAI (Pacifica Radio) and writes regularly for The Guardian, Truthout.org, and the MRZine.


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