Immigrants are getting more out of America’s recovery than native-born households are

No morning in America, for some.
No morning in America, for some.
Image: Reuters/Gary Hershorn
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The 2016 US presidential election has been a feeding frenzy in certain pro-Trump pockets of America. And the juiciest cut of all is immigration, which Donald Trump says is dragging down middle-class incomes.

Yet according to a recent Gallup analysis, Trump supporters tend to be better off financially than the rest of the American electorate, face minimal job competition from immigrants and last year census data showed that, while they have yet to reach pre-crisis levels, middle-class incomes surged, compared with the previous year.

Why, then, are Trump folks so afraid of immigrants? Here’s a clue. It turns out that the median incomes of immigrant households are rising faster than those of homegrown Americans, according to the latest census report. The chart below shows the change in median household income for each type of household between 2011 and 2015, adjusted for inflation.

In 2011, the median native-born household made only slightly less than the median foreign-born citizen household. But in the last two years, that gap has widened.

And while the median non-citizen household (a group that include both legal and illegal immigrants) makes much less than their native-born counterpart, that difference has been shrinking fast. (The apparent annual growth of real median household income of non-citizen immigrants likely has something to do with to an overall decline in unauthorized immigrants since 2007.)

Two-thirds of Trump supporters–who likely skew towards being native-born Americans–say immigration is a ”very big” problem for the US, reports Pew Research, compared with 17% of Hillary Clinton supporters. During the primaries, while relatively few Republican voters saw immigration as the most important issue in the election, the majority of those who did consistently favored Trump. At the same time, Trump fans report unusually acute economic anxiety compared to others in their income bracket, according to a recent Gallup analysis.

But again, on average, they tend to be doing better financially than other groups, not to mention that to many Trump’s economic arguments for expelling unauthorized immigrants and curbing immigration don’t make sense.

So where, then, does the resentment fueling Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade come from? It is true that the percentage of immigrants in the US population has been rising since the mid-1960s, when Trump was a young man. But perhaps it also has to do with the fact that middle-class families born in the US are watching the fortunes of immigrants grow faster than their own.