How Immigrants Strengthen the Medicare Trust Fund

July 2, 2013
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Growing up in the deep south, where most of my family still lives, I can’t tell you how often I hear complaints about all the supposed havoc immigrants are wreaking on our nation. Apparently, they’re taking our jobs, marrying our women, and wringing every last drop of our hard-earned, begrudgingly paid tax dollars from our nation’s public programs.

Growing up in the deep south, where most of my family still lives, I can’t tell you how often I hear complaints about all the supposed havoc immigrants are wreaking on our nation. Apparently, they’re taking our jobs, marrying our women, and wringing every last drop of our hard-earned, begrudgingly paid tax dollars from our nation’s public programs. The problem is, no matter what you think about the first two, research clearly demonstrates that that last point is absolutely not true.Image

A smart group of researchers from Harvard and the City University of New York (CUNY) including Leah Zallman, Steffie Woolhandler, David Himmelstein, David Bor, and Danny McCormick have done the math and concluded that immigrants contributed $115.2 billion more to the Medicare Trust Fund than they took out between 2002 and 2009, and this figure, if anything, may be an underestimate. In 2009 alone, immigrants paid in $13.8 billion more to Medicare than they received in benefits. By contrast, that same year, U.S. citizens “generated a deficit of $30.9 billion,” according to the authors. So, while we’re busy bankrupting ourselves, the immigrants are slowing the bleeding.

If I know anything, it’s that the skeptics among you don’t believe this. “How can it be?” you ask, “Immigrants don’t pay taxes!” And that, my friend, is where you’re wrong. Some immigrants are here quite legally and they do, indeed, pay taxes. Then there are the undocumented immigrants, and they pay taxes, too. According to the study’s authors:

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“Undocumented immigrants often pay payroll taxes under Social Security numbers tied to invented names or belonging to someone else, because to comply with federal law employers must obtain a Social Security number from every employee. Less frequently, undocumented immigrants pay self-employment taxes (in lieu of payroll taxes) under individual tax identification numbers, which allows them to claim credit for their contributions should they eventually obtain legal status.”

So, you see, immigrants are bolstering this country’s Medicare Trust Fund, and most believe they are also doing the same for Social Security. With immigration reform on the political agenda, we should be very careful about how we proceed. Opening the floodgates to allow unrestricted immigration is unlikely to solve the problems faced by Medicare and Social Security, but severely restricting immigration could certainly make them much worse than they already are. So, the next time you’re tempted to complain about immigrants, take a moment and thank them for subsidizing the health insurance and retirement income of America’s senior citizens instead.