Immigration and public assistance participation: Dispelling the myth of dependency

Marta Tienda, Leif Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


This paper addresses the important but relatively understudied problem of immigrants' use of transfer payments. First we document gross differentials in the propensity of natives and immigrants to receive public assistance income (which includes AFDC, General Assistance, and Supplemental Security Income) using 1980 census data. Descriptive tabulations revealed considerable variation among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in poverty rates, household income, and public assistance usage. In 1980, Asian and Hispanic immigrants had higher, and white and black immigrants had lower, rates of public assistance recipiency compared to their native counterparts. Multivariate logit regression analyses, however, revealed that immigrants were considerably less likely than (statistically) comparable natives to receive public assistance income. Also, except for Vietnam era Indochinese refugees, allegations that recent immigrants have a higher probability than earlier arrivals to receive public assistance income were unsupported. Our findings therefore challenge the popular notion that immigrants are welfare prone, and that an amnesty program necessarily will increase the public assistance case load.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-400
Number of pages29
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1986

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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