Policy Studies Journal
Across states, there is substantial variation in the degree to which immigrants and their children are offered public assistance. We present a theoretical framework for analyzing the effects of policy decisions about immigrant inclusion. We apply the framework to investigate the effect of the state safety net on educational attainment. We focus on the years following welfare reform in 1996, when states gained considerable autonomy over welfare policy, including decisions about the eligibility of immigrant residents. Leveraging state-level data from before and after reform, we estimate a difference-in-difference model to identify the effect of variation in immigrant inclusivity on educational attainment. We find that when states broaden the inclusivity of the social safety net to immigrants, young Latinos are more likely to graduate from high school. This effect is present beyond the group of Latino residents who receive additional benefits, suggesting that policy decisions about immigrants spill over to broader communities and communicate broader messages about social inclusion to racial and ethnic groups. We find similar patterns among Asian youth, but not among black and non-Hispanic white youth. We conclude that immigrant inclusion has consequences for the life prospects of the growing population of youth in high-immigrant ethnic groups.