Sunday, June 24, 2007

Talk of the Town: "Cheap tomatoes cost the U.S. $2.4 trillion"

Fellow blogger Tom Steele makes the case for the simple-minded approach to the immigration non-problem. There's not much here we haven't seen before, of course, and on this page at that, but it's a good example of how whipping people up emotionally can effect one's judgment about the facts.

I knew Tom was headed for trouble with his lead: "Most people know Latino farm workers have been part of our American picture since the 1940s." Most people also know that Mexican farm workers have been in the picture throughout the Southwest since long before there was an American picture at all.

But Tom's core argument is built on the idea that illegal workers receive more in services than they contribute in tax revenues. Here's a little of the research that Tom missed, as quoted by the National Immigration Law Center:

According to Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Board Chairman, in congressional testimony, July 2001, "undocumented workers contribute more than their fair share to our great country". He continued to inform Congress that immigrants, including undocumented workers, in essence donate $27 billion to state and local economies.

This is the difference between what they pay in taxes -- $70 billion -- and what they use in services -- $43 billion. Greenspan also testified that in Illinois alone "Illegal workers pay $547 million in taxes yearly, compared to $238 million in services used." This is a net "profit" for Illinois of $309 million.

A recent February 2002 study by the University of Illinois found that even as undocumented workers paid federal and state income taxes -- one study puts the amount of taxes paid at $90 billion per year -- they did not claim the tax refunds for which they were eligible. These unclaimed refunds amount to the donation of billions of dollars to the public coffers.

Another study by the Urban Institute found that undocumented workers contribute $2.7 billion to Social Security and another $168 million to unemployment insurance taxes. Because of their illegal status, these workers will not be able to access these programs even if they wanted to. In addition to the above tax donations, undocumented workers pay billions of dollars in local and state sales taxes when they purchase appliances, furniture, clothes and other goods.

According to The National Immigration Forum undocumented immigrants pay about $7 billion annually in taxes, subsidizing funds like Social Security and unemployment insurance from which they cannot collect benefits. In California, which accounts for about 43 percent of the nation's undocumented population, or about 1.4 million people, undocumented immigrants pay an additional $732 million in state and local taxes.

These are older numbers, but there's plenty more. This is an easy one.

Tom's big number in the headline is based on this idea: The (unimpeachably right-wing) Heritage Foundation "estimates the 'underpayment' of all taxes including the earned income tax credit, items previously mentioned and the projection of all Social Security benefits for life on these 20 million legal residents, is estimated at $2.4 trillion!" Hate to break it to you, Tom, but notice that this is about legal beneficiaries. Illegals can't get Social Security benefits. If they could, you might have a case, in the real world, no.

Tom is kiting large parts of his argument on his own prejudice that no one is paying attention to the real social costs incurred by illegals. It's just not true. These costs are well studied, well documented and available to anyone who can handle a Google search line. The social scientists and economists are in broad agreement that illegals are net contributors by a large margin.

Yup, and your tomatoes are cheap -- not because the illegals are being subsidized, but because their employers can more easily exploit them. You want a real scary story, look at what's happening with corn, what government subsidies of corn producers here are doing to the Mexican agricultural industry, and how that's affecting the northward flow of economic refugees.

1 comment:

DeltaDeltaDelta said...

link to Tom Steele's original article: