About a year ago the presence of refugees in Hagerstown, MD came to the public’s attention rather dramatically. A very ill African woman sent a child out on the street of her crime-ridden neighborhood to look for medical help. The child spoke no English and was found knocking on doors, searching for the resettlement agency office. After the police were called, a series of misunderstandings led to an erroneous conclusion that the refugees and others living in the building were ill with a mysterious African disease. The street was closed and a Hazmat team called in. The woman had morning sickness (or so they say). Thus began the questions by citizens about how all this came to be; it seemed almost as if the public had been kept in the dark purposely.
One of the most significant lines of inquiry involved the economic questions. How could our city absorb all these people who were obviously receiving housing subsidies and other forms of welfare? Were the refugees working? And, what sort of jobs could they do since they didn’t speak English? How could they support whole families on not much more than minimum wage?
It turned out that most of our refugees were working at warehouse jobs or local factories. So then we asked, what’s in it for the likes of Sealy Mattress, one of the employers? One probable answer is a federal tax subsidy for businesses that hire people on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or Food stamps. (Note in my earlier post that half of the refugees are on food stamps, many receive TANF benefits). The Work Opportunity Tax Credit , recently extended by Congress until August 31, 2011, offers a lucrative deal to employers. (Note: We have a better summary of the program from the Congressional Research Service dated June 4, 2007. It was sent to me privately and I cannot find it on line. E-mail us and I’ll tell you where you might get it.)
A qualified employee (welfare recipient) need only work for 400 hours (a 40 hour work week translates to 10 weeks) and the business reaps a tax benefit of up to $2400. If that employee doesn’t work out, get another! The volags (voluntary agencies) act as employment services for businesses and help facilitate refugee hiring.
It makes me wonder if this federal government subsidy is just one of the reasons big businesses like Tyson’s Food are so keen on refugees (in addition to their wish to keep wages low). Afterall, these immigrant workers are here legally and come with benefits of their own.
Check out this post on Louisville, KY. The Wall Street Journal says refugees are good for business.
Your tax dollars:
Everytime I hear a Presidential candidate (Edwards for instance) say we need to combat poverty in America, or, we hear from Hillary and Obama that we need health care for the poor; I shake my head. Will these ever go away as drumbeat issues when we are adding to our welfare rolls daily through our immigration policy, or in the case of illegal aliens, the lack of any policy?
In my research on the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (post later when I have a little more time), I came back to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) annual report to Congress. The latest available on-line is the 2005 report; it’s a treasure trove of information. I’ve written about this before but with almost 250 posts here at RRW, I couldn’t find it! It is worth repeating:
All in all, past surveys have described a consistent process of advancement, slow at first, and halting for some, but sustained nevertheless, toward integration with the American mainstream. The 2005 survey, in contradistinction, describes a much more serious struggle. The 2005 survey reveals a definite turndown in refugee resettlement advancement as measured by the general labor force participation and welfare utilization data. The survey indicates that the educational background of the five-year refugee population is substantially weaker than that reported in previous surveys. Fewer refugees have finished higher school, and fewer still have finished a college degree. A smaller proportion of arriving refugees can speak English fluently and a higher proportion speak no English at all. This has translated into lower labor force participation, as measured by the employment rate which has retreated from 62 percent in the 2004 survey to 58 percent this year.
Moreover, the jobs that refugees find are of poorer quality than seen in previous surveys. This year the average age declined about five percent from the year before after considering the effects of inflation. Even more troubling is the dramatic decline in employer-related health benefits: Five years ago, two-thirds of respondents could claim such coverage; today, only one-fifth can make that claim.
Some other interesting statistics from the report: For refugees arriving in 2005, 27% received cash assistance and 11% lived in public housing. Those numbers were the norm for the 6 years shown in the report. However, two numbers rose considerably. 39% received medicare and 53% were on food stamps prompting conclusions like those outlined in the above segment of the report.
For those of you who love to look at statistics, check ORR’s annual reports back to 1997.