Immigrants Contribute Billions Into Social Security, Medicare

I didn’t know, until today, that there’s such a thing as an earnings suspense file. It’s a running count that the Social Security Administration keeps of the wages that don’t match up with real names and numbers in their system.

It’s a mystery, but it’s not the conundrum that people think. And if you’re Latino you have more than a passing suspicion about why this disparity exists. The Seattle Times reported on this suspicion as well:

That total (earning suspense file) hit a record $90.4 billion, earned by 10.8 million workers, in 2007, just before the recession. Some of those were legal workers who simply made paperwork mistakes, but the majority are believed to be illegal immigrants.

In real numbers, allocated to real agencies, it works out like this, in 2007:

  • $11.2 billion went into the Social Security Trust Fund
  • $2.6 billion went into Medicare

The report continued:

“When you hear people voicing anti-immigrant sentiments, one of the first things they say is, ‘They don’t pay any taxes, and they just take money out of the system,’ “ said Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association Florida, based in Apopka, Fla. “But that just isn’t true. Yes, some are paid under the table, but the majority are paid by check, and they pay taxes out of those checks.”

It’s not that hard to come by false Social Security and alien registration cards — one of the waiters at one of my favorite restaurants in San Antonio is named Felipe, he told me so. But his name tag says Antonio sometimes, and Marcus other times, and he smiles at the discrepancy. Since 1986 all employers have been obligated to ask for proof of residency from their employees and the SSA lets employers know if the names and numbers don’t jibe — it’s easy to go out and get other ones.

Regardless of the name or the number, though, the money they pay into the system finds its way into the earnings suspense file because no one ever claims it.

[Photo by DonkeyHotey]

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