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More Immigrants Are Staying Poor

September 2, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The number of immigrants living in poverty across the country has grown and they are remaining poor longer than in the past, according to a study released today.

The portion of immigrants living in poverty grew from about one in six in 1979 to more than one in five in 1997, according to the study from the Center for Immigration Studies. The total number in poverty tripled from 2.2 million to 7.7 million during that period, with the highest rates in California, Texas and South Florida.

The growth of immigrant poverty, which occurred during a period when poverty in native households remained steady, meant that immigrants now account for more than one in five of all poor families nationwide, compared to less than one in 10 two decades ago.

Immigrants are also climbing out of poverty more slowly, the report found. For example, more than one in four immigrants who arrived during the 1980s remained impoverished in 1997, which was twice the rate for natives.

``Americans may disagree over the best way to address poverty,″ said Mark Krikorian, the center’s executive director. ``But there can be no doubt that ongoing immigration is diverting scarce public and private resources that are needed to help the poor already here, native-born and immigrants, improve their circumstances.″

Poverty was defined as the federal threshold of $16,400 for a family of four.

The report blamed the higher poverty rates on the lower levels of education, higher unemployment and larger family sizes of immigrants. But the report said that welfare reform and illegal immigrants weren’t responsible for the broadening poverty.

In California, nearly one in four of the 11.3 million immigrants were living in poverty in 1997. That was nearly twice the poverty rate for 21.6 million natives. Half the immigrants came from Mexico and Central America, with about one in six from Asia.

In Texas, 28.7 percent of immigrants live in poverty. In Arizona, 36.4 percent. In Florida, the figure was 22.3 percent.

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