Hispanic Immigrants Find Their Own Way to the American Dream

Just because they don't get college degrees, doesn't make them failures

FWD.us, a pro-immigration group founded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, last week launched a month-long ad campaign to shame Republicans into passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes “amnesty” and a guest-worker program for Mexicans.

It’s a noble cause. But advancing it requires not a shame campaign. It requires an educational campaign to dispel the latest restrictionist myth: Latinos are ambitionless losers who don’t assimilate.

Whenever immigration reform gathers steam, some smart-set conservative comes along peddling “facts” to show why more Hispanics would destroy America's social fabric. President George W. Bush's reform effort was derailed partly because respectable conservatives pulled out from the fever swamp of ultra-restrictionists the notion that the Hispanic community is not a paragon of family values, as widely believed, but a cauldron of “runaway illegitimacy.” Manhattan Institute's Heather MacDonald wrote that soaring Hispanic out-of-wedlock birthrates — three times those of whites and Asians and one-and-a-half-times those of blacks — were “creating a new U.S. underclass.”

But that was only half the story. The other half was that Hispanic marriage rates are almost identical to those of whites with 77 percent of Latinas being married by age 30. This means that most of these unwed moms eventually tie the knot. (One reason maybe their out-of-wedlock birth rate is so high is that Hispanics are disproportionately Catholic and regard abortion as a sin.)

What's more, given the high percentage of two-parent Hispanic households, their kids are not being raised without dads. Indeed, Roberto Suro noted in a highly underreported 2007 Brookings Institute study that the overall decline in the two-parent family with children between 1990 and 2005 would have been much greater had it not been for Hispanic families. The number of such households declined among non-Hispanics by 600,000. However, because they increased by 2 million among Hispanics, the overall number of two-parent households increased by 1.4 million.

“Given the value put on two-parent households in the debate over the state of the American family,” noted Suro, “one had to judge the Latino effect as positive overall.”

Now another argument has surfaced to show that America's great assimilation machine has stalled when it comes to Hispanics. According to New York Times' Ross Douthat, generally a super-thoughtful conservative, although second-generation Hispanic immigrants make progress over first-generation ones, stagnation sets in by the third. Nor is this trend likely to cure itself given that rising unemployment and family breakdown are already hindering upward mobility for America's underclass.

But a new study by Jennifer Lee and others at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that such fears are overblown. In a survey examining the intergenerational mobility of various immigrant groups in Los Angeles, they found that the educational attainment of Mexicans does stall after the third generation, compared to Asian immigrants. “However,” they note, “it is far from clear that this cross-sectional finding represents any kind of downward mobility or stagnation.”

Mexican median household income rises from $27,748 in the first generation to $53,719 in the second and $62,930 in the third. Likewise, the rate of homeownership rises from 35.2 percent in the 1.5 generation to 62.3 percent in the second and nearly 72 percent in the third-plus.

These rates are lower than those for Asian immigrants, but not by a lot. And they are actually more impressive given that Mexicans often come to the country illegally without fancy degrees, unlike most Asians. “When we measure success as progress from generation to generation,” maintains Lee, “Mexican-Americans come out ahead.”

So how does one reconcile stalled educational progress with rising mobility? The researchers, who conducted in-depth interviews, discovered that Mexicans are extremely entrepreneurial, starting small service businesses in gardening, roofing and moving, areas that most native-born shun. But conventional socioeconomic indicators such as educational and professional occupational scales don’t fully capture this, dumping Mexicans in the “unsuccessful category.”

This suggests that before we declare Mexicans unfit for America, we examine our assumptions. Indeed, many of us wouldn’t be in the country if such faulty litmus tests had been applied to our ancestors.

And who better to sell that message than a college dropout like Zuckerberg?

This column was originally published in the Washington Examiner

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • wareagle||

    oh, good; I was starting to worry that Shikha had run out of straw men and false dichotomies.

  • creech||

    Wareagle still heap big mad that ancestors didn't drive Vikings and Columbus back into big water.

  • wareagle||

    try again. The Indians lost; romanticizing them into something they weren't does not change that, nor does it make them any different from other groups that similarly lost.

  • Swiss Servator, alles klar?||

    Pssst. I think he is trying to be snarky, not serious...?

  • Acosmist||

    Yes this may unintentionally undermine her point. It's like when a chick is bad at statistics in a post saying that women are equally good as men at math; sort of...funny.

  • PaulW||

    I really, really hate the soft sciences.

    They need a major overhaul. I'm sick of one study saying one thing, and another saying the exact opposite, and they're both equally "legitimate".

    Someone is doing something wrong, and these "scientists" need to figure out how to fix their methodology as a whole before they do any more pointless studies.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Soft science methodology has been defined: 1: determine policy goal to be advanced 2: structure data and collection to generate findings that advance policy goal 3: publish "non-fiction" book advocating policy based on 'data'

  • wareagle||

    how is that different from the allegedly hard science re: climate?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Climatology is a soft science, since its results can't be replicated experimentally.

  • Tony||

    So you don't believe in the big bang?

  • UnCivilServant||

    I'm agnostic with regards to the matter.

  • Tony||

    Sounds like the problem is your lack of interest in and/or understanding of science, not science itself.

  • PaulW||

    Tony is saying physics and climatology are the same, then claiming others lack an understanding of science.

    Meanwhile, there are alternate theories to the Big Bang, but it is winning handily.

    Difference between physicists and climatologists: The physicists will readily admit that they just don't know for sure.

  • Tony||

    Pretty sure scientists in both disciplines proportion their truth claims to the evidence.

    The only problem here is you guys refusing to acknowledge the evidence in climate science. I don't know what to tell you except read any of the vast amount of information from reliable sources that's a google search away.

  • UnCivilServant||

    The key element for scientific scrutiny is reproducability. If others can't replicate your results under objective conditions, it's an inferrance and a hypothesis, not a fact. Or did you not study the scientific method?

    In your example, what we have measured is the movement of celestial bodies. This movement can be independently confirmed. The current hypothesis is that they originated from a point source. This is open to challenge, provided suitable data.

    Climatology deliberatley ignores the data and refuses challenges to the premise, thus has left the hard sciences.

  • David Wall||

    Perhaps a different approach would be to delineate sciences that depend too much on deductive research and which has limited perceptual evidence--meaning inductive evidence--versus science that has both strong inductive evidence and deductive evidence. Many of the social sciences--like psychology, economics--are dominated by deductive research with less rigor in toward the inductive cycle of building a theory. As a consequence many theories being tested are based upon implicit assumptions inside the researchers head versus a string of facts emanating from perceptual evidence. Building strong inductive evidence takes years of work and the formal rigor in showing it is still in dispute. Too many of those working in the social sciences lack the rigor to work their higher order concepts down to the perceptual level.

  • Tony||

    No it doesn't.

  • Swiss Servator, alles klar?||

    I see what you did there...

  • prolefeed||

    The Big Bang Theory is falsifiable -- it makes predictions about the structure of the universe that, if found to be untrue, would mean the theory would have to be modified or discarded.

    That is one of the hallmarks of hard science.

  • Tony||

    Climate science has made predictions based on observed evidence and they have been coming true. You just refuse to acknowledge it.

    You aren't going to trump the global scientific community with 5th grade science truisms. It boggles the mind that you think you can.

  • ace_m82||

    Climate science has made many predictions based on observed evidence and they have been failing to come true. You just refuse to acknowledge it.

  • Tony||

    Cite?

  • PaulW||

    Its just a simple google search away. Look at the actual temperatures as compared to predicted.

    Predictions are not even accurate. Once your awesome scientists figured out their predictions didn't work based on their models that they created, they created new predictions.

    Now, apparently, the ocean holds all the temperature in and the sun isn't hot enough right now, but just WAIT, our new models will show climate change is real, you just have to wait ANOTHER 15 years for us to prove it!

  • PaulW||

    But if you don't believe us THIS TIME, you're a denier!

  • ||

    You aren't going to trump the global scientific community with 5th grade science truisms.

    You aren't going to trump the global Catholic community with 5th grade philosophical truisms either, but it doesn't make them correct.

    You've explained over and over again that you have such constrained and limited scientific knowledge that you can't intelligently discuss the issue and instead rely on experts to tell you what you need to know. Not everyone shares your deficiencies and hangups, and have more curious minds.

    Also, getting your "science" from google searches for "global warming" that lead to article fragments from ThinkProgress might be a big part of your problem.

  • mtrueman||

    "since its results can't be replicated experimentally."

    Because the earth is not a laboratory. You seem to be saying that this is a failing of either the earth or climatology. I think there is always going to be difficulties for the hard sciences when the object of study is ourselves (as in the social sciences) or our climate. The hard sciences require objectivity, and don't perform as well when the focus is subjective.

  • Tony||

    Moron.

  • PaulW||

    Since when is meteorology a hard science?

    I'd place it right between psychology and sociology.

  • I. B. McGinty||

    It always has been a hard science, maybe not an exact science.

  • MarkinLA||

    I think you missed the part where no matter how much cherry picking and massaging of the data produces the desired result you either shelve the study for a future date or pretend all the data collection methodologies are unreliable.

  • mtrueman||

    "and they're both equally "legitimate"

    No two studies are ever equally legitimate.

    "Someone is doing something wrong"

    Sorry to break it to you, but that someone is you. You shouldn't expect any particular study in the social sciences to come up with a definitive answer on an issue.

  • ||

    You shouldn't expect any particular study in the social sciences to come up with a definitive answer on an issue.

    And that's why they aren't, in the truest sense of the word, science. "Science" doesn't just mean "inquiry", it's a systematized way of testing things. It doesn't mean that fields with less certainty or that skip steps in the scientific method aren't useful, just that they aren't science.

  • mtrueman||

    "it's a systematized way of testing things"

    I agree to some degree. I think the problem lies in the focus of their attention. The realm of science is limited to that which is observable, repeatable and measurable. Human experience goes far beyond these narrow confines. Clearly the limitations of science and the richness of human experience are going to lead to frustrations like PaulW is talking about.

    My advice for PaulW is to take the findings of social sciences with a pinch of salt, and not to be afraid to draw on a long tradition of arts and literature to help us study and understand the human.

  • Seamus_Cameron||

    I doubt that most people would describe Hispanics as "Ambitionless Losers". But, a lot of us have seen illegal aliens destroy local labor markets.

  • wareagle||

    it's Shikha. Her schtick is based on delegitimizing anyone who is not open borders.

  • Tony||

    You're supposed to be libertarians.

  • UnCivilServant||

    It's clearly not a pre-requisite for posting here.

  • Black&Yellow||

    @Tony,

    Obviously not.

  • PaulW||

    But, but open borders!

    Libertarians must fight for everything they believe in, in no particular order, and disregard the implications of such policy decisions, because intentions!

  • ||

    Libertarians must fight for everything they believe in, in no particular order...

    Shikha certainly doesn't believe that. Immigration first, everything else... maybe at some point, if we can ever get around to it.

  • prolefeed||

    But, a lot of us have seen illegal aliens destroy local labor markets.

    If by "destroy" you mean "entered into mutually agreed upon contracts with employers that put competitive pressure upon native born", then sure.

    An odd definition of destroy, though.

  • ||

    Just FYI, not a lot of illegal aliens enter into actual, legal contracts for reasons that should be self explanatory.

    Also, in a lot of industries illegal immigrants actually have an advantage explicitly disallowed to the native born by the law, in that they can work outside of the oppressive regulatory structure and price floors with which native-born workers must comply (or risk serious consequences, including jail time, that illegal immigrants do not). It's sort of a strange type of reverse regulatory capture. Call it what you want, but a market in which 90% of the participants are subject to one set of onerous rules while 10% are not is... at the very least quite distorted.

    I know that can't possibly be it though. It's just that everybody in America has a PhD and won't perform physical labor, or are lazy cunts who will just sit on welfare (an incentive that does not apply to immigrants, who have overcome all weakness of human nature).

  • Eric Bana||

    Those people selling things on the black market in Cuba are also behaving illegally, those bastards.

  • Ron||

    If I didn't have to pay taxes, like most illegals don't,otherwise why would anyone hire them, I'd be doing very well myself with the American dream

  • Black&Yellow||

    "like most illegals don't"

    Where did you get that info from? So they don't pay sales tax? Even if they don't, so what? Taxation is theft!

  • Federale||

    So, they don't have to pay taxes but whites have to? Sounds like a Mexican version of racism and socialism.

  • ||

    They don't pay the same taxes that legal workers would be required to pay, at risk of jail time or severe financial penalty. In case you just time traveled here from 1912, there's an income tax now. Along with payroll taxes. Not mentioning regulatory compliance costs. Being able to offer one's labor without the burden of those costs when other participants in the market are required to offer their labor only with the burden of those costs is a distinct advantage.

  • ||

    (Strangely, the lesson taken away from this economics 101 example of how markets work is never that the regulatory and tax burden should be reduced for everyone)

  • Flemur||

    Mexican median household income rises from $27,748 in the first generation to $53,719 in the second and $62,930 in the third.

    Next paragraph:
    "... IIMMLA finds a socioeconomic plateau or decline among Mexican Americans beyond the third generation, including an increase in arrest and incarceration rates between the 1.5 and third generations—17.3 and 14.7 percentage points, respectively. These rates are comparable to those of native-born black men. “Rather than a story of upward mobility often mentioned in the ‘straight-line’ assimilation literature, the data…suggest instead a story of segmented assimilation to the criminal norms of the native-born""

    $62,930

    ReallY The national median household income was $50K in 2011.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19894/
    "The incomes of Mexican Americans—by far the largest group of Latinos—are very low. Their median annual household income ranges from $30,000 (in 2002 dollars) for the immigrant generation to about $40,000 for those who were born in the United States (see Table 8-1). In each generation they rank lower than the other Hispanic national-origin groups except for Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. However, Mexicans who were born in the United States have higher household incomes than blacks, whose median income is only $32,000 per year. In contrast, the median household headed by a third (or higher)-generation white non-Hispanic has an annual income of $55,000."

  • Eric Bana||

    Your comment contains contradictory/inconsistent information.

  • mtrueman||

    "Latinos are ambitionless losers who don’t assimilate."

    If that were true, would it make any difference to the Libertarian argument? Strikes me that we really have no business delving into the hearts of immigrants to gauge their ambitions or intentions to assimilate.

  • Federale||

    Yeah, but since we live in a welfare state, someone else is paying for their failings. Until you end welfare, libertarian arguments for immigration are just subsidies of socialism.

  • Taco||

    "If that were true, would it make any difference to the Libertarian argument? Strikes me that we really have no business delving into the hearts of immigrants to gauge their ambitions or intentions to assimilate."

    This seems more like anarchist than a libertarian logic to me. Libertarians do believe in at least a minimal state, no? A state that has, among its very few duties, the obligation to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens, no? Now we are faced with aflood of immigrants who have no intention of obeying the laws of their new country, no intention of learning the language of their new country, no intention of assimilating in any way whatsoever, and who have as their ultimate goal the establishment of a country which closely resembles their old country, in the physical territory of their new country, with no regard whatsoever for the life, liberty, and property of the descendants of that country. Does not the state have a legitimate duty to prevent this?

    You must understand that unfettered immigration represents, in the best case, the establishment of a large and growing minority voting bloc in our country which is openly hostile to libertarian principles.

    Right?

  • mtrueman||

    "A state that has, among its very few duties, the obligation to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens, no?"

    I never got that impression from reading this board. Your quote is the definition of a "nanny state," a term that is only uttered here with the utmost contempt.

    Maybe my attitude is more anarchist than libertarian. I don't care what languages others choose to speak, or find people who come from abroad threatening or suspicious. I've probably seen a bit more of the world than you have.

  • Taco||

    " I've probably seen a bit more of the world than you have."

    I'm pretty well traveled. I've lived in 6 US states, and spent significant time (at least 3 months) in at least 6 others. I've spent a year in the South Pacific, and another 6 months as a missionary in Africa, and a further 3 months backpacking through South Africa.

    So, maybe you've seen more of the world than me, idk. But really, I'm not sure that my arguments are wrong even if you have seen 10x more of the world than me.

    To me rightness and wrongness should be decided by logic and reason. Not by a personal travel history dick measuring contest.

  • Federale||

    If Hispanics are doing so well, why such large percentages are on welfare?

    http://www.cis.org/immigrant-welfare-use-2011

  • Federale||

    In any event, they are voting for more welfare, higher taxes and Obamacare. Sounds like welfare socialism to me.

  • Taco||

    Republicans and Democrats are like two people arguing over whether it is more prudent to drive the bus off the cliff at 45mph, or to go for the gusto and accelerate to 125mph.

    Lately I have come to realize that Libertarians want to slam on the brakes... So that they can toss the keys to a Mexican peasant, with the understanding that he will instantly sober up and put the bus in reverse. Because freedom.

  • Eric Bana||

    The United States accepted enormous numbers of poor immigrants from Europe, Asia, and the Americas in 19th century without falling off the face of the earth. Take your nativism elsewhere.

  • Taco||

    1) To believe that the United States could absorb unlimited numbers of Mexican immigrants without becoming Mexico is to assume that culture does not create law, but that law creates culture. In other words, if Mexico, tomorrow morning, adopted the laws and constitution of the United States, you believe that Mexico would in short order become a Spanish speaking version of the United States. Similarly, if the United States adopted Mexico's constitution and laws tomorrow morning, the US would become an English speak version of Juarez. I don't want to be accused of attacking a strawman here, so please let me know if this does not describe your understanding of the situation.

    2) If you believe that the United States can absorb unlimited numbers of Mexicans without those Mexicans turning their new home into the same shithole as their last home, as evidenced by the fact that "The United States accepted enormous numbers of poor immigrants from Europe, Asia, and the Americas in 19th century", and can do so because American constitution and laws will reform those Mexican immigrants, will you please compare and contrast the differences in the American which 19th century Europeans emigrated to with the America of today, with a special consideration to the differences between the welfare state of the Grover Cleveland administration and the welfare state of today?

  • MarkinLA||

    The last thing a country with high levels of automation where manual labor jobs are disappearing daily needs is more people who who at best get college degrees in Chicano Studies and Sociology. The number of "Hispanics" getting degrees in the sciences, engineering, or math is less than that for blacks. There are only so many useless do-nothing jobs in the government for "community outreach" that the taxpayers can afford.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement