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  • Being excluded from public assistance increases the childhood poverty rate.

    Being excluded from public assistance increases the childhood poverty rate. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 March 2016

When a policy restricts undocumented Latino migrants from accessing social security the effects spill over onto the broader Latino community, new research suggests.

Excluding undocumented Latino families from the United States' social safety net not only hurts their children but also spills over onto documented Latino children, a new study in the Policy Studies Journal highlighted by the London School of Economics (LSE) U.S. Centre claims.

The LSE researchers primarily address the nation's Latino community, including undocumented migrants, citizens and acculturated individuals and families.

They confirm that poor families who are ineligible for benefits have fewer resources to direct toward education. This usually leads to their children facing increased pressure to enter the labor market as soon as possible instead of remaining in school for longer periods of time.

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The lack of a social safety net and the resulting economic stagnation has long been a challenge for migrant families as it contributes to poverty and as a result, inequality.

However, the study also found that even documented families who are not excluded from the safety net are impacted by those who are.

"When a policy restricts the eligibility of a narrow group of immigrants, like the undocumented or recently arriving Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), the effects can spill over into the broader immigrant community, onto the second generation, and to the ethnic group with which immigrants identify," wrote the authors of the study.

This spillover effect can occur in several ways. “Material disadvantage confronted by one immigrant group transfers through families and peer networks," explained the study's researchers.

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“Confusion about eligibility can keep eligible immigrants and their children off public assistance programs. And Latinos may perceive lesser prospects for mobility in states that do not create a strong safety net for immigrant families, which could decrease educational aspirations," the researchers explained.

This spillover effect was being investigated by looking at the low-income Latino community after the passage of welfare reform bills in 1996.

The reform excluded many immigrant families from social safety net programs back then.

The researchers then looked at the growth in the high school graduation rate between various states following the law change. Some of those states had more restrictive policies for undocumented immigrants than others.

The LSE researchers found the results to be clear. "Following reform, the graduation rate of low-income Latinos grew substantially faster in states that extended their own social safety nets. We find both direct effects among Latino youth who became ineligible for income support, and spillover effects among those who remained eligible."

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Those Latino teenagers who lived in states with a restrictive safety net were 9 percent less likely to graduate from high school than if they lived in a less-restrictive state.

The study suggests that policies cannot solely focus on undocumented Latino migrants but that policymakers need to consider the effect the same policies might have on documented migrants within the same communities.

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