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Interstate Migration of the U.S. Poverty Population: Immigration 'Pushes' and Welfare Magnet 'Pulls'

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H., Kao-Lee Liaw, Yu Xie, and Marcia J. Carlson. 1996. "Interstate Migration of the U.S. Poverty Population: Immigration 'Pushes' and Welfare Magnet 'Pulls'." Population and Environment, 17(6): 491-533.

This study evaluates the social and demographic structure of poverty migration during the 1985-90 period based on an analysis of recent census data. Particular attention is given to the roles of two policy-relevant factors that are proposed to be linked to poverty migration. The first of these is the role of immigration from abroad and its effect on the net out-migration of longer-term residents with below-poverty incomes, from States receiving the highest volume of immigrants. Such a response, it is argued, could result from job competition or other economic and social costs associated with immigration. The second involves the poverty population "magnet" effect associated with State welfare benefits (AFDC and Food Stamp payments), which has come under renewed scrutiny in light of the impending reform of the federal welfare program. The impact of both of these factors on interstate poverty migration is evaluated in a broader context that takes cognizance of other sociodemographic subgroups and State-level attributes that are known to be relevant in explaining internal migration. This research employs an exceptionally rich data base of aggregate migration flows, specially tabulated from the full migration sample of the 1990 U.S. census (based on the "residence 5 years ago" question). It also employs an analysis technique, the nested logit model, which identifies separately the "push" and "pull" effects of immigration, welfare benefits, and other State attributes on the migration process. Our findings are fairly clear. The high volume of immigration to selected U.S. States does affect a selective out-migration of the poverty population, which is stronger for whites, blacks, and other non-Asian minorities as well as the least-educated. These results are consistent with with arguments that internal migrants are responding to labor market competition from similarly educated immigrants. Moreover, we found that the impact of immigration occurs primarily as a "push" rather than a reduced "pull." In contrast, State welfare benefits exert only minimal effects on the interstate migration of the poverty population--either as "pulls" or "pushes," although some demographic segments of that population are more prone to respond than others. In addition to these findings, our results reveal the strong impact that a State's racial and ethnic composition exerts in both retaining and attracting migrants of like race and ethnic groups. This suggests the potential for a greater cross-state division in the U.S. poverty population, by race and ethnic status.

Dataset(s): Census: U.S., 1990.

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