How Are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform?. Food Insecurity and Housing Need

03/04/2002

In addition to regular income-based measures of poverty, the survey also asked respondents whether they had problems getting enough food or meeting their housing needs. The food security questions are part of a well-tested battery of food security questions (Andrews et al. 2000; Bickel et al. 2000) that measure whether families at times did not have enough food because of economic problems.

In both New York City and Los Angeles, about half of the immigrant families with incomes below twice the poverty line said they had run out of food either sometimes or often in the last year (Table 1.7 and Figure 1.7). By contrast, about one-third of low-income native citizen families in California and New York State had encountered these problems. About one-quarter of the immigrant families reported that adults had skipped or reduced the size of their meals in the previous 12 months due to economic problems. Native citizen families reported relatively similar levels of this problem (23 percent) in California, but less of it in New York State (18 percent). The relatively higher levels of food insecurity exist among most types of low-income immigrant families, regardless of whether they include naturalized citizens, LPRs, refugees, or undocumented aliens. The second part of this report provides more detailed analysis of food security among the families in LANYCIS, by comparing food security by immigration status, language ability, tenure in the United States, and family composition.

Table 1.7.
Food Security Problems among Low-income Immigrant Families*,
with Comparison to Native Citizen Famlies in California and New York State
  Share of low-income families*
Ran out of food, sometimes or often Adults cut size of meals or skipped them Either problem

Immigrant families in Los Angeles

All immigrant families 50.8% 24.5% 53.7%

Naturalized citizen families

49.7% 29.6% 52.6%

All noncitizen families

51.0% 23.1% 54.0%

LPR families

53.5% 25.4% 58.4%

Refugee/asylee families

53.8% 18.2% 57.6%

Other legal immigrant families

x x x

Undocumented families

49.5% 23.0% 50.8%

Native citizen families in California**

36.5% 22.9% 38.9%

Immigrant families in New York City

All immigrant families 48.1% 24.9% 51.9%

Naturalized citizen families

50.0% 20.4% 53.2%

All noncitizen families

47.3% 26.7% 51.3%

LPR families

51.7% 28.7% 53.9%

Refugee/asylee families

39.3% 25.5% 40.4%

Other legal immigrant families

4.6% 18.9% 21.5%

Undocumented families

48.7% 24.2% 55.4%

Native citizen families in New York State**

32.5% 17.6% 35.7%

* Low-income families have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
** Comparison group data from the 1999 National Survey of America's Families (NSAF II).
All immigrant data from LANYCIS.
Notes: For definition of family immigration status, see Appendix 2. "x" denotes small sample size.

Figure 1.7.
Food Security and Housing Problems for Immigrant and Native Citizen Families with Incomes below 200 Percent of the Poverty Level

Figure 1.7. Food Security and Housing Problems for Immigrant and Native Citizen Families with Incomes below 200 Percent of the Poverty Level

Research based on other surveys has also documented serious food insecurity among immigrants. Using national data from NSAF, Capps (2001) found that in 1999, nationally, 37 percent of the children of immigrants lived in families with one or more food affordability problems, compared with 27 percent for children in native citizen families. Food affordability problems were more common among immigrant families than native families in the eight states included in that NSAF analysis. Another survey of immigrants, conducted at health clinics and other service sites in California, Texas, and Illinois, found relatively high levels of food insecurity among low-income immigrant families with children (Kasper et al. 2000).

We also examined whether families had any problems paying for housing (Table 1.8 and Figure 1.7). In Los Angeles, 18 percent of low-income immigrant families had experienced problems paying their rent, mortgage, or utility bills (electricity, gas, water, or telephone) in the last 12 months, and in New York City 26 percent of such families reported similar problems. The overall prevalence of housing problems was somewhat higher for New York City immigrants than for those in Los Angeles. In contrast, only about 8 percent of low-income native citizen families in California and New York State had dealt with such problems. These findings should be interpreted with caution, however, since average housing costs in Los Angeles and New York City are much higher than in other parts of the states. It seems plausible that, like immigrants, low-income native-born families in Los Angeles and New York City might have more difficulty paying housing and utility bills than their native-born counterparts in other regions of the states.

Table 1.8.
Housing Affordability Problems among Low-income Immigrant Families,
with Comparison to Native Citizen Families in California and New York State
  Share of low-income families*
Unable to pay rent, mortage or utility bills at least once Had to move in with others because of problems paying rent, etc. Either problem

Immigrant families in Los Angeles

All immigrant families 18.2% 4.9% 19.3%

Naturalized citizen families

15.1% 3.2% 17.0%

All noncitizen families

19.0% 5.4% 20.0%

LPR families

18.6% 4.1% 19.5%

Refugee/asylee families

7.7% 3.5% 8.0%

Other legal immigrant families

14.4% 2.0% 14.4%

Undocumented families

21.8% 7.4% 22.9%

Native citizen families in California*

8.3% 2.0% 9.4%

Immigrant families in New York City

All immigrant families

25.9% 4.5% 26.2%

Naturalized citizen families

23.2% 2.3% 23.3%

All noncitizen families

27.0% 5.4% 27.4%

LPR families

30.6% 6.9% 31.1%

Refugee/asylee families

22.8% 2.0% 23.7%

Other legal immigrant families

8.2% 0.0% 8.2%

Undocumented families

24.3% 4.3% 24.3%

Native citizen families in New York State*

7.7% 2.2% 8.9%

* Low-income families have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
**Comparison group data from the 1999 National Survey of America's Families (NSAF II).
All immigrant data from LANYCIS.
Notes: For definition of family immigration status, see Appendix 2. "x" denotes small sample size.

Some immigrant families that experienced difficulty paying rent or mortgage also moved in with others  family, friends, or other group housing. Five percent of all low-income immigrant families in Los Angeles and 4.5 percent in New York had needed to take such a step in the preceding year. This is roughly double the frequency for native citizen families in California and New York State.

Naturalized citizen families were less likely to have housing problems than noncitizen families in Los Angeles, but in New York both groups had comparable problems. LPR and undocumented families were more likely to have housing problems than refugees or other legal immigrant families.

Capps (2001) also found, using NSAF data, that at the national level immigrant families are relatively more likely than native families to experience housing problems. In 1999, children of immigrants were more than twice as likely as children of natives (14 versus 6 percent) to live in families that paid one-half or more of their incomes for housing. Moreover, children of immigrants were four times more likely to live in crowded housing conditions (defined as two or more people per bedroom) than children of natives. However, Capps did not find at the national level a significant difference in the percentage of immigrant versus native families that reported problems meeting their rent, mortgage, or utility bills

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