INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
Immigration: A new study shows that the foreign-born are widening America's health coverage gap. It's time to puncture some cherished myths and get realistic about the problem of imported poverty.
Just who are the uninsured? There are answers to suit any political taste. But there's one answer – a factual one – that both parties' leaders, committed to the notion that immigration is an unalloyed good, may not want to hear.
The Employee Benefits Research Institute, a respected nonpartisan group, has just released a study showing that immigrants account for most of the recent growth in the number of people without health coverage.
Using Census data, the EBRI found that the foreign-born represent 86% of the growth in the uninsured population between 1998 and 2003. Three-fourths of the estimated 45 million uninsured in the U.S. are native-born Americans, but immigrants make up 11 million, or 26% of that population, up from 18% in 1994.
The study did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, but it did note differences between noncitizens and naturalized citizens. The latter were much more likely to be insured.
It also homed in on the probable reasons the number of uninsured immigrants rose so sharply after the mid-1990s. One was federal welfare reform, which temporarily barred most newcomers from public aid. Another was (and is) the immigrants' tendency to hold jobs without health coverage.
One reason immigrant – especially illegal immigrant – labor is cheap is so many workers are paid wages only. When they or their children get injured or sick, they visit high-cost ERs and can't pay. Taxpayers, hospitals and private insurers pick up the tab.
We mentioned cherished myths. One of these is the liberal line that the coverage gap, like poverty, is a home-grown product of corporate greed and Republican policy. In fact, the EBRI study shows the U.S. is importing much of its health care woes, just as it imports poverty by letting in millions of workers who lack the skills for anything but the lowest-paid jobs.
President Bush should not get off the hook so easily, either. Along with much of the Republican Party and corporate lobbies that push for open borders, Bush has helped make the health coverage problem worse through sins of omission.
He has shown little interest in tightening the border or enforcing laws against hiring illegals. Along with most elite opinion on the left and right, Bush seems to subscribe to another cherished myth: Immigration is essentially cost free, and the more of it the better.
The historical truth is that immigration, especially in massive waves such as we see now, hasn't always been smooth and easy.
America has a limit to the number of people it can assimilate –
economically, politically and culturally. It also has never had to absorb as large an influx from one country as it now is trying to absorb from Mexico. The task is made all the more difficult by the huge disparity between the Mexican and U.S. economies.
Mexico is still a poor nation with a vast pool of unskilled, undereducated labor. The U.S. is the most advanced industrial economy on Earth, where the good jobs go only to the highly skilled and well-schooled. Most workers pouring in from Mexico cannot hope to break into those high-wage ranks, so they stay mired among the working poor. The immigrants of myth are always upwardly mobile. Real immigrants often move only sideways at best.
It would be a healthy sign of political maturity for Republicans and
Democrats to pick up a cue from the EBRI study and start a serious debate about the costs of immigration as well as its benefits. It's time for realism on this subject, not a new round of myth-making.
Rescue American Jobs &
A.W.A.R.E. (American Workforce Alliance for Responsible Employment)
June 9, 2005: Immigration And U.S. Health Care (Published By Investors' Business Daily)