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Study Finds Young Hispanics Face Obstacles to Integration

Resource type: News

The New York Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Sam Roberts. 

A snapshot of Hispanic youngsters — the fastest-growing group in the United States by age and ethnicity — concludes that the obstacles and inequalities they face today “may hinder the broader integration of Latinos into U.S. society if left unattended.”

If those problems are addressed, though, the authors of the study say, “we can expect that over time Latinos will assimilate” just as earlier immigrant groups did, with an accompanying rise in their social and economic status.

More than one in five American children are Latino. While 92 percent of them are citizens, 58 percent live with one or more foreign-born parents.

The study, done jointly by the Population Reference Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights group, found that while most Latino children were growing up in two-parent households with at least one working parent, those households tended to be poor or low-income, and in neighborhoods that are socially and economically isolated from better-off families.

Unless current trends are reversed, the study says, by 2030, 44 percent of poor children in the United States will be Latino, compared with one-third today.

But in an interview, Patricia Foxen of La Raza, who co-wrote the study, suggested that the picture could brighten as Hispanics assimilated.

“Other research has found that there have generally been improvements on a number of indicators for Latino children, similar to immigrant groups who have integrated into the country — improved socioeconomic indicators, educational attainment, college attendance, etc.,” Ms. Foxen said.

“Nonetheless,” she added, “that research has also shown that there continues to be a substantial subgroup of Latino children who continue living in poverty, do not finish high school, get stuck in dead-end jobs, etc.”

Ms. Foxen said poverty’s legacy, discrimination, alienation and a general feeling of “not quite belonging” were to blame.

Hispanics are faring better in the nation’s traditional gateway cities and worse in the South, where low-paying jobs in poultry processing, furniture making and commercial agriculture have drawn the most recent immigrants. In Alabama, nearly half the Hispanic children live in households where no one age 14 and older speaks English well, about twice the national rate.

The Census Bureau said Tuesday that the number of people who speak Spanish at home rose to 23.4 million from 1980 to 2007, a 211 percent increase.

The share of Latino children living in single-parent families soared six percentage points to 38 percent since 2000, a larger increase than among blacks or whites. Still, Hispanic youngsters are less likely to live in single-parent families than blacks (38 percent compared with 65 percent). Hispanics who reach the ninth grade are more likely than blacks to graduate with a regular diploma (55 percent compared with 51 percent) and Hispanic men are less likely than black men to be imprisoned at some point in their lives (one in six, compared with one in three).

The Latino child poverty rate is almost as high as that among blacks. But among children in low-income families making up to twice the poverty threshold, Latinos and whites were more likely than blacks to have parents who were employed. Among high school dropouts, 18-to-24-year-old Latinos made more than whites’ or blacks’ mean earnings ($12,647, compared with $8,373 and $10,025, respectively).

Latinos also have much lower infant mortality rates than blacks (although their teenage pregnancy rate is higher than that of other groups).

Titled “America’s Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends,” the report identified a few positive developments. While Hispanic children are more likely than whites or blacks to live with mothers who have not graduated from high school, since 2000 the share in that category plunged by 10 percentage points.

In general, the report said, “first- and second-generation Latino youth have worse educational and economic outcomes than children whose families have lived in the United States for several generations.”

Still, third-generation youngsters born in the United States of American-born parents (concentrated in the Northeast, where more are likely to be Puerto Rican, and in the northern Midwest) fared worse in health and proportion of single parents than first- and second-generation Latinos.

The study did not differentiate between native-born and immigrant blacks, nor did it compare Hispanics by place of origin. But it cited the significance of regional differences, which sometimes were a reflection of when immigrants arrived and from where.

In Florida, with a large and more rooted Cuban population, 34 percent of eighth-grade Latino students tested below the basic level for math. In Alabama, a newer immigrant magnet, 51 percent did.

Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, said Hispanic young people should be a national public policy priority.

“Latino youngsters are household and community influencers who — given their potential English-language fluency, familiarity with American culture and institutions and exposure to mainstream media — are poised to lead the successful integration of Latinos into U.S. society,” Ms. Murguía said. 


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