[Timothy B. Lee]
Businesses typically steer clear of hot-button political issues, and it's not hard to understand why. They want to attract as many customers as possible, and taking a side on a controversial issue will alienate whichever half of the population happens to be on the other side. So I was astonished to see the personal finance site Mint.com run this blatantly anti-immigrant chart on its Mintlife site. What's wrong with it? Well, let's start with the sources:
The most jarring name on this list is the openly racist vdare.com. The rest of the list is a mix of official government sources, non-profits, and blogs. The sources skew heavily in an anti-immigrant direction, although at least one is a pro-immigrant source (fiscalpolicy.org). While none of the other anti-immigrant sources is as offensive as vdare, few (if any) of them could be considered credible sources for statistics about immigration.
Given its sources, it's not surprising that the chart is riddled with implausible statistics. The most obvious whoppers are the claims that "about 43% of all Food Stamps issued in the United States are to illegal aliens," and "about 41% of all unemployment checks issued in the United States are to illegal aliens." Mint doesn't give specific citations, but these claims appear to come from this article at "Charlotte Conservative News," which itself does not cite any sources. Given that the law doesn't allow undocumented immigrants to collect unemployment benefits, this claim doesn't pass the straight face test. As for food stamps, I'm not able to find recent statistics, but a 1995 study found that undocumented immigrants with citizen children received about 2 percent of all food stamp benefits. The population of undocumented immigrants has increased in the last 15 years, but it hasn't increased by a factor of 20.
Another dubious claim is that undocumented immigrants cost Arizona taxpayers $2.7 billion, which would be roughly a quarter of Arizona's $10 billion budget. The post doesn't give a specific citation, so it's hard to fact-check it, but that figure seems implausibly high given that undocumented immigrants constitute less than 10 percent of the population.
The graphic doesn't even pretend to be a balanced look at the immigration debate. It doesn't estimate the amount immigrants pay in taxes. It doesn't discuss the number of businesses started by immigrants or the number of jobs they have created. It doesn't mention the crucial role that immigrants play in our high-tech industries. It doesn't show the ever-escalating costs of enforcing our draconian immigration laws.
Its baffles me that Mint.com would run a post like this. I hope that what happened is that the author, Ross Crooks, simply posted the item without adequate supervision from the powers-that-be at the company. If that's the case, then Mint.com should take three steps. First, they should retract the post. Second, they should apologize to their customers for publishing it. And third, they should ask the author, Mr. Crooks, to find another job. Even setting aside the virulently anti-immigrant tone of the post (and the danger of alienating pro-immigrant customers), the post was simply shoddy reporting. Crooks clearly doesn't know the difference between a legitimate information source and a crank's blog. Letting someone like that contribute to your website is a recipe for disaster.
Update: Mint.com appears to have taken the post down. In a statement to Dave Weigel, Mint.com said: "We regret it. It is completely unacceptable and won't happen again." Good for them. Thanks to Amy Phillips for originally noticing the issue and to Gawker and Ezra Klein for publicizing it.