Sunday, June 3, 2007

Data, data, everywhere...

...and not a thought to think!

I got a PM from one of our readers concerning the contributions of illegal aliens to tax revenue. Some folks say they pay billions in taxes without collecting benefits, leaving a net gain to the IRS. Others say they are a net drain on social services because they receive more than they pay in.

I’ve got some thoughts on the matter:
1) Good numbers are hard to come by
2) It helps to consider the source

Number one: By its very nature, the illegal alien problem is difficult to measure. They don’t exactly register at the border, you know. As a result you get various estimates as to how many are here. The feds say 11 million, Pew Hispanic Center says 12, Bear Stearns Asset Management says 20. I’ve heard other groups say the number is as high as 100 million. Census data is unreliable because they have multiple families in one house, have a language barrier, and fear being discovered by authorities.

So any estimates about taxes and benefits are also going to be distorted as well. Which leads me to item number two: There are all sorts of groups out there with official sounding names that give out data. You have to figure out where they are coming from as a group, then see what they did to the numbers. For example, Numbers USA and the Center for Immigration Studies are both anti-illegal immigration groups. They will always report from a point-of-view that will make illegals look bad.

Other groups like La Raza and MALDEF will present data to defend the cause of the illegal aliens. You can come up with different numbers by using different source data or interpreting it in a different way.

Actually, Snopes has a pretty good examination of one set of data compared to another view of the same question.

George Borjas, a Cuban refugee, wrote a book called Heaven’s Door back in 1999 I think. It was a demographic study of immigration in general. He believes that illegal immigrants benefit the federal coffers and are a drain on state and local budgets. It makes sense. The IRS almost always gets their money but it is the school system, the police department, and the local hospital that provide most of the services. Municipalities base their services on the size of the family in each home. Obviously, overcrowding distorts the equation and puts a greater strain on services. No wonder Washington is happy to have them while cities get all the burden!

Also for your consideration is the large population of illegals who are paid under the table. I’ve seen estimates that 40% are paid that way, but how can anyone really know that Napoleon? Suffice it to say that it is a significant amount. And you double the loss there because the employer is skipping out on his matching payments, too.

A police chief in New Hampshire by the name of Garrett Chamberlain reminds us that when a roofer hires illegals, he isn’t passing the savings on to the homeowner. He’ll bid the job a couple hundred bucks lower than the competition and pocket the rest of the savings as profit. Their presence isn’t benefiting the economy; it’s making sleazy businessmen rich.

And I read an essay from a conservative citizens group in St. Louis where he made the point that no matter what the illegals contribute to the tax revenue, it would be more if the person were legal.
The short answer is that people can find data to support their beliefs; it is always wise to think it out for yourself.

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