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Immigrants' Children Fuel Growth Among Latinos
Native-Born Population Taking New Paths in Education, Workforce and Beliefs, Researchers Say

Washington Post
 October 14, 2003
By D'Vera Cohn
 

The U.S.-born children of immigrants are replacing their parents as the fastest-growing generation in the Latino population, and the shift will have profound effects on the country's largest minority group.

A report to be released today by the Pew Hispanic Center predicts that by 2020, nearly half the growth in the nation's Latino population will be from the second generation. Within seven years, it is predicted to account for one in nine school-age children. And through 2020, it is forecast to make up one in four new members of the nation's workforce.

The growing influence of those in the second generation, who will outnumber their parents within two decades, will rewrite the profile of Hispanic life in the United States. The children of immigrants are likely to move closer to the mainstream than their parents -- marrying people from other backgrounds, for example. Their political views are likely to change as well, becoming more liberal on abortion, experts say, but less supportive of affirmative action. Their earnings and education will surpass those of their parents, experts predict, but will not close the gap with the Anglo majority.

"The biggest difference is that we're shifting from a process where the largest component is Spanish-speaking immigrants -- where language and immigration status were two enormous questions -- to growth of a population that is English-speaking and native-born," said Roberto Suro, the Pew center's director. "You totally move away from the issues that have been dominant. They have a totally different set of issues than their parents do."

The report forecasts that Latinos of all generations will have an immense impact on schools and employment because of high birthrates, because other groups are not growing as quickly and because immigration will continue at a brisk pace. Even though currently one in eight workers is Latino, the report forecasts that their numbers in the labor force will grow more than all other groups combined -- by 12.6 million by 2020, compared with 11.6 million for the rest of the workforce.

The generational change could be seen in a dramatic way in the Washington area, where immigration was the major force that drove up the Latino population by nearly 90 percent in the 1990s. Although a majority of Latinos in the nation were born in the United States, most in the metropolitan area are foreign-born. The Washington area also has a disproportionately high number of well-educated immigrants, who are in a better position to help their children achieve.
Fairfax County School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech, who was born in Cuba, has seen the generational change in his family.

"My children, who were born here, grew up as Americans. And they were certainly proud of their culture, but they did not have the same issues I had," he said. "I came not speaking a word of English. I had to deal with all those issues -- the accent, the prejudice, what have you. They grow up blending, acculturating, being seamless with the majority of Americans, meeting much less resistance in school or going for jobs."

His grown children, he said, use English in their daily lives and do not speak Spanish well. Domenech added that he thinks eventually Latinos will be people "whose culture may consist more of going to a Spanish restaurant than of what they cook at home."

The Pew center's report is based on population projections by demographer Jeffrey S. Passel, formerly of the Census Bureau and now of the Urban Institute. He forecasts that the Latino population, now 35 million, will grow to 60 million by 2020.

For three decades, that population has been redefined by a huge influx of immigration, pushed by a 1965 law that opened doors to relatives of people already here. Immigrants accounted for 45 percent of the nation's Hispanic growth during that time, a larger share than any other generation during that period. But now, even as immigration continues, the single largest share of growth -- 47 percent through 2020 -- is coming from the second generation, the Pew report says. It defines second generation as anyone with at least one Hispanic immigrant parent.

The birthrate will reverse the dominance of immigrants in the Hispanic population; their children will supplant them. By 2020, children of immigrants will outnumber their parents by 21.7 million to 20.6 million, the report projects. Further, 18 million more will be made up of Hispanics who are at least third generation.

These children of immigrants are growing up in households where most of their parents did not finish high school and many work at low-skilled jobs, such as in construction or janitorial services. Most immigrant children, given better opportunities, will surpass their parents in education and earnings, experts say. Daughters are more likely to hold paying jobs than their mothers.

 Even so, the second generation will have difficulty catching up with non-Hispanic whites in socioeconomic terms, experts say, for a variety of reasons. A parent's education level often predicts how well a child will do. Many second-generation students attend poor schools. And they are growing up during a government fiscal crisis that is resulting in cutbacks to community colleges, loan funds and other programs that have helped students of past generations.
       
By 2025, half of the second generation will be working-age adults, the Pew report says. If current school dropout rates among Hispanics remain high, they will have a hard time finding work.

Steven A. Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said these children "are growing up in a very different world in terms of the dynamics of assimilation" than did previous generations. Many well-paid blue-collar jobs in mines and factories that did not require a college education have disappeared, replaced by an economy in which jobs are increasingly at the top or the bottom.

"How these kids do in the future is extraordinarily important to our country, because they are a really big group," said Camarota, whose group favors limits on immigration. "The stakes are very high."

As those in the second generation move from their parents' homes to their own, they also will shed some of their parents' habits and beliefs. Although they grow up hearing their parents tell them that their lives are better in the United States, "the kids who were born here don't know about Mexico," said Belinda Reyes of the Public Policy Institute of California. "They only compare themselves to kids in the United States."

Rodolfo O. de la Garza, a Columbia University political scientist, said second-generation Latinos are less religious than their parents and have more liberal views on abortion. Ricardo Ramirez, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, said immigrants tend to support affirmative action more than their children do. Both said the children of Latino immigrants, like their parents, do not necessarily favor more immigration, because it means more competition for jobs.

But Ramirez and de la Garza said the children of Latino immigrants are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican, in part because they support a strong role for government. Ramirez said the GOP would have better luck courting Hispanic immigrants than their children because the first generation is more conservative on some issues.

The ascendance of the Latino second generation will pose opportunities and potential pitfalls for those seeking to appeal to a group with growing numbers but potentially less cohesion.

"Just having a translation [into Spanish] of information isn't enough," said Sonia M. Perez, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza. "There is going to be even more diversity in the population, not just in national origin, but diversity in opinion, diversity in interests, diversity in what the problems are. For marketers, this is not just a bloc."

 

2003 The Washington Post Company