Amnesty advocates often claim that illegal immigrants should be granted amnesty because they will “save” Social Security. These advocates also assert that dramatically increased immigration levels will safeguard our retirements and those of our children. To support these claims, they simply point to the imminent retirement of the baby-boom generation and the need for new workers to contribute payroll taxes in their place. Recently released statistics prove this is plainly false.
For the first time, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has released the hard data necessary for us to understand the impact of low-skilled immigrants, illegal or legal, on our retirements. And the numbers are not pretty. According to the SSA, not only the typical illegal immigrant, but any low-skilled immigrant, will have a devastating impact on the solvency of Social Security - which millions of Americans depend upon for retirement.
Under the current system, illegal immigrants who provided their employers with fraudulent documents and work on the books contribute to Social Security, and they are not eligible for retirement benefits. But what happens if they receive amnesty? Under the Social Security Protection Act, an illegal immigrant who is legalized can qualify for retirement benefits based on their prior work - their prior illegal work. This means, if granted amnesty, the illegal immigrant population will place a tremendous strain on Social Security.
For example, what if a single male illegal immigrant with very low earnings, currently 23- years-old, is granted amnesty and later retires? The SSA found that such an alien will receive (on average and at today’s value) more than $46,426 in retirement benefits. What about a similar female illegal immigrant? According to the SSA, she will receive $52,253 in retirement benefits. A married illegal-immigrant couple where only one spouse works? $83,290. And what about a married couple where both spouses work? There would be a loss of $101,184.
Legalizing illegal immigrants imposes a significant drain on Social Security. What if 5 million illegal-immigrant couples who both work with very low earnings receive amnesty? The total negative impact on Social Security would be over $500 billion. This is a serious financial blow to our retirements and those of our children.
The numbers that the SSA ran can be applied not only to typical illegal immigrants, but also to any low-wage worker. This is an important distinction, since many immigration advocates propose that Congress greatly increase the number of low-skilled workers allowed to come to the United States.
Let’s look at low-skilled legal immigrants who are currently 23 years old. Will they and their employers contribute more to Social Security than they will later receive in retirement benefits? Or will they end up being a net drain on taxpayers and the economy?
According to the SSA, the total contributions of a single male with very low earnings will fall $15,596 short of the value of the Social Security retirement benefits they will eventually receive (on average and at today’s value). A single female will receive $20,936 more in benefits than she generates in taxes. An immigrant couple with a sole wage-earner will eventually drain Social Security by $52,460; if the immigrant is married to another very low earner, the net drain on Social Security will be $39,037. In fact, for every million one immigrant couples where one works for very low earnings and one does not work, Social Security will eventually suffer a net loss of over $52 billion. If both spouses have very low earnings, the blow to Social Security will be over $39 billion. So, low-income immigrants cause a dramatic drain on Social Security.
Clearly, the increased migration of low-skilled immigrants is not a formula for the success of Social Security. It is a formula for the failure of America’s retirement system.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
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