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Study: Immigrants keep the Medicare system afloat



One of the long-standing misconceptions regarding immigration is that newcomers are a drain on the system and take up resources paid for by Americans.  A new study conducted by Harvard Medical School (drawing from previously completed surveys handled by the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Service) completely turns this idea on its head.   The researchers studied the amount of money contributed into Medicare between 2002 and 2009 and what it found was that immigrants generated surpluses of $115 billion during that time while the American-born population actually had a deficit of $28 billion over the same period.

Does this mean that every immigrant was paying more into the system that Americans?  Not at all – in fact in a person-to-person ratio, the contributions were essentially the same.  The differences lie in that the American immigrant population tends to be younger than the general population as a whole.  Also, immigrants tend to be healthier and utilize medical services less often than native born Americans.   One of the biggest age demographics for citizens is the baby boomers – who are reaching retirement age and beginning to heavily draw on Medicare.

Why is this finding important?  While the survey didn’t differentiate whether or not the money contributed by immigrants was paid  by those here legally or not, it shows that immigrants are literally pumping money into government programs.   The average age of foreign born Hispanics (the largest immigrant group in the US) is 27 while it’s 42 for non-Hispanic whites in the United States, according to the Brookings Institute.  Not only are many in the former group too young for Medicare, they are paying into the system that is supporting other citizens (and could be struggling without the contributions).

Furthermore, this research comes out as immigration reform is at a forefront as Congress considers the legislation that could greatly impact the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.  While the study sticks strictly to the (positive) effects immigrants have on this program, it presents a snapshot of the kinds of contributions that immigrants are making on society and to the benefit of the entire country.   While it’s impossible to say exactly what the economic impact for legalizing all 11 million undocumented immigrants, it is indisputable that at this time, newcomers to the country are much more of an economic help than hindrance.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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