If Arizona is lagging immigration is reason
Arizona Republic
December  7,  2007

The litany of Arizona's supposed inadequacies is by now depressingly familiar.

Arizona has a poverty rate above the national average. We have one of the highest percentages of our population without health insurance in the country.

Fewer of us have high-school educations and college degrees. Per capita income in the state lags behind the national average.

Occasionally, there's a reluctant concession that immigration contributes to these rankings, but it's almost always dismissed as a minor factor. Arizona's allegedly low-wage economy is inevitably fingered as the primary culprit.

A new study by the Center for Immigration Studies, however, indicates that immigration is nearly the entire explanation for these rankings.

Now, CIS has an agenda. It believes that there is too much immigration in the United States, both legal and illegal.

However, I've always found its research to be first rate. The base information for this study ("Immigrants in the United States, 2007") comes from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. Its top-line numbers comport with those from other research organizations that don't share its agenda, such as the Pew Hispanic Center.

The poverty rate in households headed by the native-born in Arizona does slightly exceed the national average for such households, 12.5 percent vs. 11.4 percent.

The poverty rate for immigrant-headed households in Arizona, however, is 22.4 percent, well above the national average for immigrant households of 16.9 percent. Nearly a third of all Arizonans living in poverty are in immigrant households.

Immigrants are an even larger share of Arizona's uninsured population. Again, the uninsured rate in Arizona native households is slightly above the national average, 15.1 percent compared with 13 percent. Arizona immigrant households, however, have an uninsured rate of 44.5 percent, well above the national average of 30 percent. Immigrant families constitute over 40 percent of the uninsured in Arizona.

Just 8.7 percent of native adults in Arizona don't have at least a high-school degree, not appreciable above the national average of 8.4 percent. However, 46 percent of adult immigrants in Arizona have less than a high-school degree, far above the immigrant national average of 30.6 percent.

The starkest contrast is on income, a statistic that is constantly wielded to indict Arizona's economy. As it turns out, native Arizona households actually have a median income that is 4 percent above the native national average. The median household income for Arizona immigrants, however, is 30 percent below the national average for immigrant families. On a per capita basis, Arizona native income is slightly above the national average, while that of immigrants is a third less than the immigrant national average.

In fact, Arizona has the largest gap between native and immigrant income in the country, 2 1/2 times the national average.

That is because so much of Arizona's immigration comes from Mexico. Sixty percent of adult Mexican immigrants have less than a high-school degree.

And undoubtedly because so much of Arizona's immigration is illegal. More than two-thirds of Arizona immigrant households living in poverty are headed by an illegal. According to CIS, Arizona has the highest concentration of illegal immigrants in the country, as a proportion of both population (9 percent) and the workforce (12 percent).

So, what to make of all this?

The social welfare and economic indicators that drive so much of the public policy debate in Arizona are clearly almost wholly a function of immigration.

That doesn't change some realities. The children of illegal immigrants are mostly legal. That means Arizona has a social-welfare and educational challenge.

It should, however, change the tenor of the discussion. Arizona has high rates of poverty and uninsurance, and low rates of educational attainment and per capita income, not because of anything Arizona is doing wrong.

Instead, those phenomena exist because Arizona is a place where poor and relatively uneducated people, primarily from Mexico, think they can improve their lot in life. Lax immigration laws have permitted them to come here in large numbers.

Coping with immigration, particularly illegal immigration, is clearly the issue, not fixing alleged deficiencies in Arizona's social-welfare and economic policies.

Reach Robb at robert.robb@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8472. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Read his blog at robbblog.azcentral.com.