When Mitt Romney made his comments about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay taxes and were supposedly “dependent on government,” many conservatives rightly condemned the remark, and Romney apologized. Now, a major conservative think tank is repeating his error, denouncing lower-skilled workers as a fiscal drain on the economy.
This week, the Heritage Foundation, the largest conservative D.C. non-profit organization, released a study intended to demonstrate that allowing the 11.5 million mostly lower-income immigrants who are currently in the country illegally to stay will harm America’s economy. The study focuses on immigrants, but its logic applies to millions of working Americans, almost half of whom had no income tax liability in 2011, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Indeed, Heritage makes quite clear that its conclusion that immigrants are economically superfluous applies equally to most Americans. If an individual does not have a college degree, they are a net fiscal drain on the economy, and in the Heritage methodology, that means that America’s economy would be better off without them. Thus, about 70 percent of Americans would be “deportable.”
Heritage is absolutely correct to point out that entitlements are unsustainable, but this is true with or without immigration reform—that is an argument for fixing entitlements, not stopping immigration reform. At current deficits, the federal government will spend $67 trillion more than it will bring in taxes over the next 50 years. By Heritage’s logic, that means America should be emptied.
As should be obvious, America would not gain from removing between 50 and 70 percent of its workforce. This fact exposes the fatal flaw in the Heritage study—it ignores the economic benefits that low-skilled workers bring. Under progressive taxation, the majority of taxes are paid by the highest income levels, but low-wage workers still form a critical base without which the top earners would suffer and tax revenues would fall.