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The High Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants

The American taxpayer foots the bill for tens of billions of dollars in services and other benefits given to households of low-skill immigrants, many of whom are here illegally.

On average, each of these 4.5 million households receives nearly three dollars in taxpayer-funded services for every dollar it pays in taxes, according to a special report from The Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage report, published as the Senate takes up legislation to put illegal aliens on a fast track to citizenship, calculates that households of low-skill immigrants paid an average $10,573 in taxes in fiscal 2004.

But these low-skill immigrants received almost three times as much -- $30,160 per household -- in government benefits and services. That's a "fiscal deficit" of $19,587.

That's also about $10,000 more in services and benefits -- mostly welfare payments -- than the average U.S. household got.

"Over the next 10 years," analysts Robert Rector and Christine Kim write, "the net cost (benefits minus taxes) to the taxpayer of low-skill immigrant households will approach $1 trillion."

At least half of adult illegal aliens don't have a high school diploma, according to Pew Hispanic Center, compared with 25 percent of legal immigrants. By contrast, 9 percent of nonimmigrant adults lack a high school diploma.

Americans tend to be "net taxpayers" during our working years -- that is, the amount we pay in taxes exceeds the cost of services we consume. In retirement, we become "net tax takers" -- benefits received exceed taxes paid.

But it's a different case for households of low-skill immigrants. No matter the age of the head of household, benefits received far exceed taxes paid by low-skill immigrants, defined as those without high school diplomas. The total gap in fiscal '04 alone: $89.1 billion.

"Assuming an average adult life span of 60 years for each head of household," Rector and Kim write, "the average lifetime costs to the taxpayer will be nearly $1.2 million for each low-skill household."

The complete report is available here.

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