Poverty: Robert (Not Paul’s Brother) Samuelson Blames the Mexicans

Why on earth would Greg Mankiw endorse anything from Robert Samuelson?

The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration. As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. This is not complicated, but it is widely ignored … In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty. That’s the figure that translates into the 12.3 percent poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent. The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain … From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods. Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty. The increase among Hispanics must be concentrated among immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as their American-born children.

I’ll give Greg credit for this wisdom:

Of course, many of these poor immigrants are nonetheless richer than they were in their country of origin.

Nice diffusing of the Robert Samuelson/Lou Dobbs hysteria. But let’s check the details as provided by the Census Bureau. Let’s concede something. While the white population has increased from around 188 million in 1990 to around 196 million in 2006 (just over 4 percent), the number of Hispanics has more than doubled from around 21 million in 1990 to just under 45 million in 2006. Let’s concede something else – the poverty rate for Hispanics is higher than the poverty rate for whites.

But let’s also graph these poverty rates over the 1990 to 2006 period. Our graph helps us see a few things R. Samuelson failed to mention starting with the tendency for poverty (white or Hispanic) to rise during recessions (e.g., the early 1990’s) and fall during booms. Notice also how much Hispanic poverty fell during the 1990’s. So adding to Greg’s point that Mexican immigrants likely earn more here than in their home country – it seems the Hispanic poverty has showed dramatic declines. There was a small reversal of this during the early part of this decade with the weak economy and all. That occurred both for white and for Hispanic poverty rates.

But let’s also compare poverty rates for both groups as of 2006 versus 2000. Hispanic poverty was only 20.6 percent in 2006 versus 21.5% in 2000. While white poverty was only 7.4% in 2000, it was 8.2% in 2006.

Of course, these facts do not fit well into Robert Samuelson’s immigrant bashing. I’m sure he’d a real fun time on the Lou Dobbs show! But I’m hungry now so I’ll stroll down the street and pay a local Mexican vendor for a burrito. He works hard and his food is really good. Some advice to Robert Samuelson: when you come to my home town (Los Angeles) enjoy the Mexican cooking without worrying whether these hard working folks are distorting some official statistic.