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