Revealing Pew Report on Latino Youth

December 15, 2009

The Pew Hispanic Center just released a new report about young Latinos in the United States, finding high rates of pregnancy, gang affiliation and school dropouts. It also revealed an optimistic streak and an emphasis on education and career success, and contextualized the latest immigration pattern by comparing it with historic patterns of immigration to the U.S.

Part of a Pew Center series on American youth, the report was based on a survey conducted in August and September of this year "among a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 22,012 Hispanics ages 16 and older, with an oversample of 1,240 Hispanics ages 16 to 25." It was done in both English and Spanish.

The report notes at the outset that Latinos are "the largest and youngest minority group in the United States." One in five schoolchildren is Latino, as are one in every four newborns. The solid majority of Latino youths -- two-thirds -- are not immigrants.

On the whole, it has to be said that the report's major findings in areas with hard data were pretty grim. For instance, native-born Latino youths are almost all proficient in English, compared with 47 percent foreign-born, and 59 percent are enrolled in high school or college, compared with only 35 percent foreign-born. But on the other hand, native-born Latino youths are twice as likely to be mixed up in gangs and more likely to be in prison.

Another indication that this isn't the classical trend of immigrant success is this: "[T]een parenthood rates and high school drop-out rates are much lower among the second generation than the first, but they appear higher among the third generation than the second. The same is true for poverty rates."

The high school dropout rate for Latino youth is dramatically high -- at 17 percent, it's almost twice as high as it is for blacks -- and 19-year-old women who are Hispanic are more likely to be pregnant (26 percent) than any other racial group.

Interestingly, the survey showed that about half of Latino youths identify themselves first and foremost by the country that their parents came from. Another 20 percent used the term "Hispanic" or "Latino" and just a quarter use the term "American" first.

One likely reason for the lack of a clear, linear trend of economic and social improvement from first to third generation of immigrants is the structure of the economy -- service-oriented and unstable, with less mobility for all Americans in recent years. Other potential reasons, however, are also cited in the report -- the sheer scale of immigration in terms of raw numbers (unprecedented), the reality of modern global communication reducing the need for acculturation, increased tolerance for diversity and so on.

To read a summary of the report, you can go here. The full thing is here (PDF). And an NPR "Talk of the Nation" segment featuring a report contributor and two commentators is here.


M. Junaid Levesque-Alam writes about America and Islam at his website, Crossing the Crescent, and for WireTap, where he is also the immigration blogger.


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