Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16298 Exploring Immigrants' Life Course Welfare Use In Metropolitan New York

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:15 AM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Rocio Calvo, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chesnut Hill, MA
Analia Olgiati, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Mary C. Waters, PhD, M.E. Zukerman Professor of Sociology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Purpose: The perception that immigrants abuse the U.S. system of public assistance arises often in the immigration debate and it is a source of much contentious discussion. A major concern is the belief that immigrants who receive public support will raise their children to rely on welfare. In spite of the popularity of this argument, this is a normative idea for which there is very little empirical evidence (i.e. Borjas, 1999; Butcher and Hu, 1999). Moreover, prior research has been hampered by data limitations which prevented linkage of parents' use of welfare with later generations' reliance on public assistance. To our knowledge no study thus far has examined the intergenerational transmission of welfare hypothesis with data that link immigrant parents and their offspring. Our main research question is: does the receipt of public assistance during childhood increase the likelihood of relying on welfare during adulthood among immigrant groups?

Method:The data source for this study is the Immigrant Second Generation in Metropolitan New York Study; a random telephone survey of 3,415 young adults (aged 18 to 32) who lived in metropolitan New York between the years 1998 and 2000 (Kasinitz, Mollenkopf, Waters, and Holdaway, 2008). We employed seven programs as outcomes: (1) free school lunch, (2) SSI and disability grants, (3) Medicaid, (4) food stamps, (5) Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), (6) housing subsidies and, (7) Social Security. We estimated five sets of multivariate nested linear probability regression models where we introduced each group of predictors separately to better gauge their impact on welfare use. The first model in each set included only the immigrant generation/ ethnicity variables. The second model added social assistance use during childhood. The third model included an interaction between ethnic generation and reliance on welfare during childhood. The fourth model adjusted for the demographic and socioeconomic determinants of childhood welfare use; whereas the fifth model included all the variables present in previous models plus the demographic and socioeconomic determinants of welfare use during adulthood.

Results: After adjusting for the demographic and socioeconomic determinants of childhood welfare use, we found that most immigrant groups did not differ from natives' reliance on welfare. Moreover, traditionally disadvantaged immigrant groups were not dependent on welfare. In fact, immigrants from South America, Dominicans and West Indians had the lowest reliance rates over the life course, participating on welfare even at lower rates than native comparison groups.

Implications:: It is well established that unequal access to basic rights like health, education and nutrition early in life has negative cumulative effects throughout the life course. Providing immigrants access to social welfare services that guarantee their basic needs does not generate dependency but it actually contributes to the successful assimilation of subsequent generations.