by Mike Kimel
Explaining Trump’s Appeal, Part 3
In a recent post, I showed that since 1950
a. foreign born population correlates to slower job creation
b. it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to find a job in the US
I want to try to tie both those facts, and explain them. But first, I need more facts, which, oddly tie somewhat Trump’s rhetoric. I’m going to rely a lot (but not entirely) on a set of slides prepared by the Census. That presentation looks at figures relating to the foreign born population. For purposes of the Census, and this post for that matter, foreign born simply means “not a native born American.” Native born Americans include people born in US territories, and the children of American citizens born abroad. Thus, neither group is included among the foreign born population.
The Census presentation includes the following graph:
Figure 1 above shows that in 2010, there were 11.7 million Mexican-born people in the US making up 29% of the foreign born population. That’s easily the largest group of foreign born individuals, followed by China, India, and the Philippines, which make up 5%, 4% and 4% of the foreign born US population.
As the next graph from the same presentation shows, it wasn’t always that way:
As Figure 2 shows, as recently as 1960, the bulk of the foreign born population came from Europe, but now European born residents are dwarfed by those from Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia.
Here’s a bit more detail on Mexican and Central American immigration, again from the same set of slides:
The graph shows that Mexican and Central American born people made up 6% of the US foreign born population in 1960 and 37% of the US foreign born population in 2010.
Now, say you are playing the role of Donald Trump in a theater off-off-Broadway. And let’s say the playwright got confused and created a Donald Trump that was an amalgam of Trump and Ross Perot. Such a character would keep Trump’s umbrage at the presence of Mexicans and Central Americans, and combine it with Perot’s inimitable style and fondness for pointing at charts. If you played that role, your lines might look like the following:
1. On average, Mexican and Central American born people have less education than native born Americans
According to this Rand report,
[O]ut of every 100 students entering the first grade of primary school in Mexico, around 68 of them will complete all nine years of basic education. Thirty-five of these will go on to graduate from upper secondary. And only slightly more than 8 percent of the population aged 18 and older in Mexico holds a bachelor’s degree.
In the US, just shy of 30% of the population 18 and over has a Bachelor’s degree or more advanced degree, so a significant percentage of the immigrants are less educated than the existing population.
Additionally, Trump might argue that the same combination of circumstances that lead many Latinos abroad to not get an education may be transmitted through the generations once here. To argue that, Trump might highlight the figure below from the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine:
2. On average, Mexican and Central American born people are disproportionately poor and use up disproportionate amounts of government assistance
Trump might start this argument by posting this graph from the Census slides:
So we see that foreign born people, in general, earn less than the native born, but that the largest group of foreign born people, those from Mexico, have very low earnings.
Not that those earnings will necessarily remain in the country. In 2015, remittances, at $24.8 billion, were the largest source of foreign income for Mexico.
In any case, the poverty rate of low earning groups is also, not surprisingly, high:
Now, these days low income and high poverty means government transfers & subsidies, as Mr. Trump would be quick to tell us. Estimates I’ve found of the government transfers & subsidies going to the foreign born vary quite a bit, and tend to be characterized by opponents as ideological.
To avoid getting caught up in that debate we can ballpark this ourselves, and focus entirely on the region Trump is likely targeting when he discusses the Great Wall of Trump. Mexico and Central American, in 2010, accounted for over 13.7M people (Figure 1 – just Mexico, El Salvador & Guatemala) with 29% in poverty (Figure 6 – assuming El Salvador & Guatemala born people have the same poverty rate in the US as Mexico born people). That means about 4 million Mexican & Central American born people eligible for programs related to poverty alleviation. Now, in the US as a whole, about 46.7 million live in poverty. So about 8.5% of the poor people in the US come from the 4.4% of the population that were born in Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Federal outlays for transfer payments that probably included foreign born poor people include “Children’s health insurance,” Medicaid, “Total, Assistance to students,” housing assistance, “Total, Food and nutrition assistance” and “Total, Public assistance and related programs.” If I didn’t screw anything up, in 2010, that amounted to $672 billion and change. 8.5% of that is $57 billion.
On the other hand, tax revenues would necessarily be a much smaller number. I’m not tax accountant, but I do believe that once exemptions, deductions, and credits are take into account, the average person making $23,810 is probably paying very little in taxes. (For what its worth, according to this, a single filer with no dependents pays $948, and a married filer with two children pays nothing.) But if $23,810 is the average income of the working person in that group, even assuming very, very generously that the employment to population ratio for the group is 75% (relative to US figures of 60% now), it is easier to come up with a scenario where total tax revenues are less than $57 billion than it is to come up with a scenario where total tax revenues exceed $57 billion. So from the perspective of Trump’s bean counter, that portion of the foreign born population is, on net, a fiscal drag on the public purse.
Which brings us to the Great Wall of Trump. How much would that cost? According to the Washington Post, Trump estimated that Trump’s Wall would cost $8 billion. The newspaper put the figure closer to $25 billion.
Now, Trump would argue there’s another reason for the Great Wall of Trump, and that is crime, which brings us to the third argument you would utter in your role of Trump in the off-off-Broadway theater:
3. On average, Mexican and Central American born people are disproportionately likely to end up committing crimes
At this point, I suspect Mr. Trump would pivot away from the Census graphs. He would probably show us this graph from the Federal Bureau of Prisons:
It goes without saying that Mexican citizens do not make up 14.8% of the US population.
Your Trump character would probably also trot this graph:
Note that according to Census figures for 2015, “Hispanics constituted 17 percent of the nation’s total population.”
At this point, your Trump character would overtake his Perotian tendencies and drone on, stream of consciousness style, for an indeterminate period. Eventually, the curtains would come down.
A few notes. First, in full disclosure, I am Hispanic (Argentine heritage on my father’s side). I would imagine that Mr. Trump’s Wall would be equally intended to deal with South Americans as Mexicans and Central Americans. As a result, I would have preferred to look at a broader group that includes me. However, South Americans are a much smaller share of the immigrant population to the US, so statistics are hard to find. For this post, I took the drunk-looking-for-his-keys-under-the-lamppost approach.
Second note – in fairness to Trump, he generally makes a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, at least when it comes to those from the Western Hemisphere.
Third note – I had intended to explain some findings from my previous post on Trump but this post has already gotten too long. I will get to that explanation.