The Welfare Helping Hand: Bane or Boost for Immigrant Settlement?

Jennifer Van Hook, Bowling Green State University
Frank D. Bean, University of California, Irvine

Public assistance is often argued to impede immigrant assimilation because some think government support discourages work and fosters dependency. Sociological research and theory, by contrast, suggest assimilation is most likely to occur in the context of supportive environments. To evaluate these two perspectives, we examine multiple panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to estimate levels and trajectories of immigrant welfare receipt during the pre-reform period (1990-1996) and how these vary across states with relatively less and more generous welfare benefits. The results suggest that in generous welfare policy contexts, immigrant welfare recipiency declines and immigrant employment following welfare spells increases with longer time in the United States. Conversely, in states with low welfare benefits, welfare recipiency increases and employment declines with increasing time in the country. The results generally support the idea that more favorable contexts of reception generate greater assimilation.

Presented in Session 99: Immigrant Incorporation in the U.S.