“…we roughly estimate that 32 percent (13.8 million) of the people immigration has added to the country since 1990 are illegal immigrants or their progeny.”
Center for Immigration Studies
Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler
We estimate that immigration between 1990 and 2017 added nearly 43 million people to the population, but had a minimal impact on the share of the population that is of working age. This is because immigration added to both the working-age population and to those outside of the working-age population in nearly equal proportions. We also find that post-1990 immigration had a somewhat larger impact on the ratio of workers to retirees. However, raising the retirement age by one year has as large an impact on the ratio as do the nearly 43 million post-1990 immigrants and their progeny.
Among the findings:
- In 2017, there were 30.8 million post-1990 immigrants (legal and illegal) and 12 million of their U.S.-born children and grandchildren in the country — 42.8 million in total, or one in eight U.S. residents.
- The 42.8 million people post-1990 immigration (legal and illegal) added to the country is larger than the combined population of 22 states.
- While adding significantly to the population, the presence of post-1990 immigrants and their progeny only increased the working-age (16-64) share of the population from 63.9 percent to 64.4 percent in 2017.
- Immigration had a small impact on the working-age share because immigrants arrive at all ages, grow older over time, and have children, so they added to both the working-age and those too old or too young to work in nearly equal proportions.
- Even if the number of post-1990 immigrants and their offspring was doubled to almost 86 million, about one in four residents, it would still only have raised the working-age share to 64.8 percent — 0.9 percentage points higher than if there had been no immigration.
- The working-age share can be seen as the best way to think about the ability of society to pay for government or support the economy, as both children and the elderly generally do not work and are supported by the labor of others.
- Excluding children, and looking only at the number of working-age people (16-64) relative to those of retirement age shows that post 1990-immigration increased the ratio from 3.7 potential workers per potential retiree to 4.1.
- If the retirement age were raised by just one year, assuming no immigration, the ratio of workers to retirees would be 4.1, matching the effect of post-1990 immigration.
- Increasing the retirement age by two years, assuming no post-1990 immigration, would have increased the worker to retiree ratio to 4.5 in 2017. It would have required doubling post-1990 immigration to nearly 86 million to match this effect.
- In terms of using immigration as a way to pay for entitlement programs, it must also be pointed out that a large share of post-1990 immigrants and their children struggle, living in or near poverty and using welfare programs at relatively high rates. This makes it difficult for them to generate a fiscal surplus that can pay for social insurance programs.
- In 2017, 45 percent of households headed by post-1990 immigrants or their adult children used one or more major welfare programs, compared to 26 percent of native-headed households. The rates of poverty or near poverty for post-1990 immigrants and their children were 50 to 60 percent higher than that of natives.
- While this analysis is focused on all immigrants (legal and illegal), we roughly estimate that 32 percent (13.8 million) of the people immigration has added to the country since 1990 are illegal immigrants or their progeny. Since legal and illegal immigration together have a modest impact on the working-age share or the worker-to-retiree ratio, the impact of illegal immigration by itself is very small.
Steven A. Camarota is the director of research and Karen Zeigler is a demographer at the Center.
Much more here.