Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Immigrants - Types Of Older Immigrants, Origins Of Older Immigrants, Economic Circumstances, Family Ties

Immigrants - Economic Circumstances

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Although they are generally younger than seniors from the earlier European immigration waves, recent older immigrants are not as well-off economically. In the sixty-five-and-older population, in 1990, those who immigrated during the 1980s were twice as likely to live in poverty as were all older Americans. By and large, recent elderly immigrants lack the human capital— education, English fluency, U.S.-based work experience, and good health—that would make them employable in the skills-based U.S. economy. In 1991, immigrating parents of U.S. citizens had completed only 7.4 years of schooling, on average, versus 12.7 years for all immigrants age 25 and older. Not surprisingly, less than 1 percent of permanent immigrants age fifty-five and older was admitted on an employment preference visa in 1996. Of those age sixty-five and older, almost nine out of ten immigrants are not in the labor force, a figure comparable to that for native-born seniors.

Lacking U.S. employment experience, older immigrants are not likely to qualify for Social Security, except perhaps as dependents of U.S. workers. According to the 1998 and 1999 Current Population Surveys, only 31 percent of persons age sixty-five and older who immigrated after 1990 received Social Security, compared to 78 percent of older long-term immigrants and 91 percent of native-born seniors. Since Social Security is a mainstay of retirement income, it is not surprising that older immigrants rely more heavily on public assistance—the surveys found that among recent immigrants, 24 percent received means-tested Supplemental Security Income (SSI), compared to 13 percent of their long-term counterparts and only 3 percent of native-born seniors.

In response to the growing numbers of aliens collecting SSI, Congress tightened eligibility requirements with the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Assuming they meet strict income and asset limits, legal aliens who are blind, disabled, or sixty-five years of age and older are eligible for SSI only if they are recent refugees or have worked forty quarters under Social Security-covered employment. SSI rules create an incentive for legal aliens to become citizens, but the requirements, particularly the knowledge of English, discourage older immigrants from naturalizing. In 1990, 41 percent of older people who had immigrated during the 1980s spoke no English. Whether the new SSI provisions will actually discourage elderly immigration remains to be seen.

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