By Walter Ewing
LatinaLista — As a front-page featured on the Washington Post reminds us: “Not since the last great wave of immigration to the United States around 1900 has the country’s economic future been so closely entwined with the generational progress of an immigrant group.”
The story highlights the degree to which the children of immigrants from Latin America have become crucial to sustaining the working-age population and tax base of the nation–particularly as more and more of the 75 million Baby Boomers retire.
Moreover, the parents of these children most likely would not have even come to this country if not for the U.S. economy’s past demand for workers to fill less- skilled jobs –demand which was not being adequately met by the rapidly aging and better-educated native-born labor force.
The Post story also casts a spotlight on the insecurities and anxieties of commentators who feel that Latino immigrants and their descendants aren’t integrating into U.S. society and moving up the socio-economic ladder “fast enough.”
Although these concerns are certainly understandable, they are as unjustified now as they were a century ago when they were directed at immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.
By any objective measure, the children of immigrants from Latin America are making significant progress compared with their parents. As demographer Dowell Myers points out in a 2008 report, the experience of Latino immigrants in California reveals not only the vast strides that immigrants themselves make within their lifetimes in terms of English proficiency, home ownership, and declining poverty rates, but also the degree to which the children and grandchildren of immigrants do better than “new-comers.”
Similarly, the National Research Council’s Panel on Hispanics in the United States concluded in 2006 that “trends in wages, household income, wealth, and home ownership across time and generations point to the gradual ascension of many U.S.-born Hispanics to the middle class.”
And a 2003 study by economist James P. Smith of the RAND Corporation found that successive generations of Latino men experience significant improvements in wages and education relative to native-born non-Latinos.