Immigrants are known for bringing a strong work ethic and economic stimuli to the U.S., but as their families settle into American life, too many are earning too little.

According to the latest US Census data on means-tested government assistance, the two largest demographic groups that include large numbers of recent immigrants or children of immigrants (Asians and Hispanics) are disproportionately poor enough to qualify for public assistance.


The Census data show an overall increase of 50 percent in use of government assistance over eight years, with one-out-of-five now receiving assistance. There are millions of white Americans in poverty and receiving assistance.  But the rate of "Asians or Pacific Islanders" who are poor enough to qualify for government assistance is nearly half-again higher than that for "non-Hispanic whites." And the rate for Hispanics is nearly triple.

America has a well-known history of guiding assistance (via public or private means) to those in need. Greater yet is America’s long-standing promise that hard work can lead to self-sufficient, independent lives of dignity.

Yet America is increasingly failing to fulfill that promise to traditionally disadvantaged black, Hispanic, Asian, veteran, disabled and younger Americans. Several factors foster unemployment in these communities, including but not limited to, poor education, criminal justice system disparities, biases, racial diversity challenges and immigration problems.

At a rate of one million new permanent workers per year, however, new, more and unabated immigration disproportionately puts disadvantaged American communities, including many immigrant families who are already here in constant competition with new arrivals for jobs.

As an example, the Census illustrates that Asian and Hispanic U.S. residents are not faring well in the fourth decade of the greatest wave of immigration in American history. 17.8 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders receive means-tested government assistance, compared with 13.2 percent for non-Hispanic whites. 

Over the last decade, two times more US Hispanic residents began receiving assistance, than recipients from all other US ethnic and racial groups.  Today, 36.4 percent of U.S. Hispanic residents are receiving means-tested public assistance up from 30 percent in 2004.  That public assistance rate is nearly identical to the high rate (37.3 percent) for all Americans who lack a high school degree.  And, is almost as high as the 41.6 percent rate for black Americans whose poverty rate remains a national scandal.

A common political recommendation that consultants and commentators give candidates for office is that they can garner votes from immigrant-stock Americans by promising to increase immigration even higher than the current level of around one million each year.

Black, Hispanic, veteran, disabled and young American citizen constituents are already asking how any increase to our labor market will mitigate the increased job, income and lifestyle losses they’ve suffered during the last 10 years commensurate with increased immigration.

Some established immigrant communities are and should be asking more candidates to look at immigration policies with a view towards making it easier vs. harder for immigrant communities already here to have full-time jobs and escape poverty.   

All Americans should ask candidates if current and proposed immigration policies properly balance our nation’s humanitarian interests with our economic interests when so many Americans, including those from immigrant communities are facing competition from newly arrived immigrants who are less educated, short on opportunities to support themselves and more than likely not able to earn lives of dignity without some future public assistance

If politicians are serious about helping all Americans recover from the job, income and lifestyle losses they’ve suffered, they need to address immigration policy in terms of re-establishing America as a land of hope and opportunity not just for those who aspire to come, but for those who have already arrived.

Broadwater is president of Americans4Work (A4W), an American citizen advocacy organization, devoted primarily to supporting jobs and employment for black, Hispanic, veteran, disabled and young American citizens.  A4W is a non-partisan organization not aligned with any political organizations or special interest groups.