Report adds to debate on Hispanic progress
Margaret L. Usdansky
By almost any measure, from education to poverty to jobs, the USA's 22 million
Hispanics are less well off than non-Hispanics. And they are especially
disadvantaged compared with non-Hispanic whites.
But today's Census Bureau report on Hispanics is sure to fuel the growing debate
over whether they lag behind because so many are recent immigrants, or because
U.S.-born Hispanics aren't catching up. Hispanics are expected to outnumber
blacks and become the nation's largest minority group by 2010.
Some social scientists say the evidence suggests Hispanics are becoming
entrenched among the disadavantaged, permanently behind non-Hispanics in the
USA. Others say Hispanics - about 40% of whom are immigrants, and almost
30% of whom are children of immigrants - simply haven't had enough time to
close the gap.
"There's some conflicting evidence," says Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the
Urban Institute. "The second generation appears to be improving, but there are
some hints that the third generation isn't making gains above that."
This murkiness stems from more than differences of opinion. Research has not
kept pace with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, which rose by 53%
during the 1980s, driven largely by immigration.
In fact, most of the debate over Hispanic progress has revolved around studies of
Mexican-Americans, who account for almost two of every three Hispanics in the
USA. The Census Bureau's report, based on a survey of more than 57,000
Hispanic households, doesn't distinguish between immigrants and U.S.-born
The report examines five Hispanic groups: Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans,
Central and South Americans and "Other Hispanic," a catch-all category
including Hispanics from Spain and those who don't fit into other categories.
How groups of Hispanic immigrants do in the USA closely reflects the resources
immigrants bring with them, says Michigan State University sociologist Ruben
Newcomers from many countries that have contributed heavily to recent
immigration - including Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala - tend to be less
educated and less affluent than most Americans.
Smaller numbers of recent arrivals from countries like Bolivia, Chile and
Venezuela tend to be highly educated professionals. But the Census Bureau
counts them under the broad category of South and Central Americans, masking
those groups' achievements.
So to answer the question of how well different Hispanic groups are doing in the
USA, Rumbaut says, it is necessary to consider where they started.
Salvador Lazaro, a Mexican immigrant who came to Los Angeles 13 years ago,
says his story is "one in a million." But it illustrates just how well some
immigrants have done.
Lazaro, 42, who has a sixth-grade education, started as a busboy at Frank's
Charbroiler diner. After working for two owners, he was able to save enough to
buy the restaurant.
Today, he and his wife, Gloria, put in 14-hour days. Gloria says her goal is to
make sure her children don't have to work as hard as she and Salvador. "I tell
them all the time that if they go to school and get college degrees, they won't
have to struggle like we did."
Rumbaut says there is evidence that second-generation Mexicans make signicant
progress, compared with their immigrant parents. Many European-immigrant
groups now considered part of the "mainstream" lived in this country for four
generations before doing as well as the average American, he says.
But Rumbaut says he is disturbed by recent studies that suggest some second-
and third-generation Hispanics do less well in school than Hispanic children who
came to this country as immigrants. Whether Mexicans and Central and South
Americans will catch up, as many Cubans have, Rumbaut says: "It's unclear."
Author and researcher Linda Chavez has no such hesitation. Her studies show
that young, U.S.-born Mexican-American men are almost as likely to complete
high school as their non-Hispanic, white counterparts. Although they lag behind
in college education, Chavez says she believes they are catching up.
The problem with the Census Bureau's report, she says, is its failure to
distinguish between immigrants and U.S.-born Hispanics.
"Because there's this constant flow" of new immigrants, Chavez says, "the
snapshot looks the same every year. As every group does move up the ladder, a
new group moves in to take their place."
University of Arizona political scientist John Garcia disagrees, saying there is "a
legacy of Mexican-origin kids doing poorly in school regardless of whether
they're foreign-born or native (U.S.) born."
He blames, in part, the growing segregation of Mexican-American students in
predominately Hispanic schools, where low expectations reinforce poor
If the socioeconomic gap between Mexican-Americans and non-Hispanics has
been closing at all, he says, "it's been very slow."
Jorge del Pinal, head of the Census Bureau's Ethnic and Hispanic Branch, says
the debate over Hispanic progress is emerging as the central controversy in
While the view that Hispanics are not closing the gap is probably more prevalent
than the belief that they are, del Pinal says, "Probably, the truth is somewhere in
between." Contributing: Jonathan T. Lovitt
Hispanics in the USA Hispanics lag behind non-Hispanics, particularly white
non-Hispanics, in education, income, employment and home ownership, a new
Census Bureau report shows. About 40% of the 22.1 million Hispanics in the
USA are immigrants. Hispanics can be of any race. How Hispanics are faring:
Mexicans largest Hispanic group Percentage of Hispanics who say they are:
Mexican 63.6% Central, South American 14.0% Puerto Rican 10.6% Cuban
4.7% Other Hispanic 7.0%
Puerto Ricans poorest group Those under the poverty level: White non-Hispanics
9.4% Non Hispanics 12.8% All Hispanics 28.7%
Puerto Rican 39.4%
Central, South Amer. 24.6%
Other Hispanic 20.6%
Puerto Rican households earning the least White non-Hispanics $32,311 Non
Hispanics $30,706 All Hispanics $22,688 Cuban $26,593 Central, South Amer.
$24,157 Mexican $22,477 Puerto Rican $17,967 Other Hispanic $27,110
Mexicans least educated group Education level of adults 25 and older:
Less than High school, Bachelor's
5th grade some college or more White non-Hispanics .9% 83.4% 23.2% Non
Hispanics 1.4% 81.5% 22.3% All Hispanics 11.8% 52.6% 9.3%
Central, South Amer. 8.1% 61.7% 16.0%
Cuban 6.5% 62.0% 18.4%
Mexican 15.2% 45.2% 6.1%
Puerto Rican 6.6% 60.5% 8.4%
Other Hispanic 5.2% 70.9% 14.2%
More Hispanics unemployed People 16 and older unemployed and looking for
work: White non-Hispanics 6.5% All Hispanics 11.3% Non Hispanics 7.5%
Puerto Rican 12.3%
Central, South American 10.8%
Other Hispanic 9.1%
More Hispanics live in single-parent households
Married Female-headed Male-headed White non-Hispanics 83.6% 12.5%
3.8% Non Hispanics 78.9% 16.8%
4.3% All Hispanics 68.2% 24.4%
7.4% Fewer Hispanics own homes Households that own their home: White
non-Hispanics 69.7% Non Hispanics 65.8% All Hispanics 39.9%
Central or South American 26.5%
Puerto Rican 24.1%
Other Hispanic 52.7%
GRAPHIC,b/w,J.L. Albert, USA TODAY ,Source:U.S. Census Bureau;
PHOTO,b/w,Bob Riha Jr., Gamma-Liaison