weekly blog--one for the ages
In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act set penalties for employers who knowingly hired undocumented immigrants. It was the first time the federal government had made it a crime to employ undocumented workers. Yet instead of destroying the underground labor market, this new law made it more sophisticated, producing a thriving market for fake U.S. birth certificates, IDs and social security cards, which undocumented workers then presented to their employers who either didn’t know they were fake, or didn’t look too closely.
When the employer submits a W-2 form and a tax payment on those workers’ behalf to the Social Security Administration, the federal government holds onto those payroll taxes, even if the Social Security number isn’t linked to anyone on file. Eventually, most of that money ends up in the Social Security trust funds from which retirement benefits are doled out to aging Americans.
The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration estimated that in 2010 about 1.8 million immigrants were working with fake or stolen Social Security cards. They paid $13 billion into the retirement trust fund and only got about $1 billion in benefits. He expected the number of immigrants using fake or stolen cards to reach 3.4 million by 2040.
According to conservative estimates from the Pew Research Center, in 2011 there were 850,000 undocumented immigrants over the age of 55 and 150,000 over the age of 65. It’s a relatively small portion of the 11+ million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. However, because undocumented immigrants of all ages are twice as likely as the general population to live in poverty, elderly immigrants without papers are less likely to have amassed savings.
To survive, many of these seniors are left with little choice but to keep working low-wage, often physically demanding jobs—street vending, cleaning houses or working as home caregivers—for the rest of their lives. Returning to their native countries is not always an option. Some immigrants say they intended to return, but there would be little waiting for them if they left because after living here for decades, their communities and families are in the U.S. And then there are those who would like to depart but fear that they wouldn’t be allowed to return to the U.S. if they wanted to come back.
Updated Immigration Numbers…In 2015, 1.38 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, a 2 percent increase from 1.36 million in 2014. India was the leading country of origin for recent immigrants, with 179,800 arriving in 2015, followed by 143,200 from China, 139,400 from Mexico, 47,500 from the Philippines, and 46,800 from Canada. In 2013, India and China overtook Mexico as the top origin countries for recent arrivals.
Overall, the immigrant population in 2015 was older than the U.S.-born population: The median age of immigrants was 43.9 years, compared to 36 years for the native born. In 2015, fewer than 1 percent of immigrants were under age 5 (compared to 7 percent for the native born), approximately 5 percent were ages 5 to 17 (compared to 19 percent), 80 percent were ages 18 to 64 (compared to 60 percent), and 15 percent were ages 65 and older (the same as the U.S. born).