Thursday, May 18, 2006
The blogger Matt Yglesias yesterday reprimanded Bob Samuelson for worrying in that column I cited below that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating well. This concern, says Yglesias, is “fake.” He goes on for good measure to insinuate that Samuelson is racist for even mentioning it. Samuelson, says Yglesias, is "one of those white pundits, employed by white editors, writing for an audience of white people, who has the courage to speak uncomfortable 'truths' about how non-white people are bad."
To substantiate this unpleasant slur, Yglesias links to a new report by the American Immigration Law Foundation that purports to demonstrate that Latinos do catch up with “Anglo” Americans over time.
Or, as the AILF authors summarize their work,
Latinos experience substantial socioeconomic progress across generations compared to both their immigrant forefathers and native Anglos. But this fact is lost in statistical portraits of the Latino population which don’t distinguish between the large number of newcomers and those who have been in the United States for generations.
Yglesias was led to the AILF report by a link from the economist Tyler Cowen. Unwisely, he does not seem to have read it very carefully for himself. If he had, he would have discovered that it is nowhere near as reassuring as Cowen - or the AILF authors - would have us believe
To demonstrate Latino assimilation over time, the AILF authors present the family histories of Latino men born between 1885 and 1919. They claim that the grandchildren of these men achieved incomes roughly 80% or better of “Anglos.” Those grandchildren substantially closed the education gap as well.
Good news, right? Look again.
A man born in 1919 would have been 51 in 1970, when large-scale migration to the United States from Mexico began. A man born in 1885 would have been 85 that year. So it’s safe to assume that the AILF cohort were all pre-1970 immigrants.
The AILF authors draw their data from a 2003 Rand corporation study . That study is not available on line, so I can’t immediately look closer at the composition of the sample it examines, but those 1885-1919 birthdates suggest another important fact about the Latinos in the AILF report: They were probably heavily Cuban-American. Before 1965, there were only perhaps 1.5 million Mexican-Americans living in the US; in the single decade after Castro took power, some 400,000 Cuban families fled to the US.
The educated and urbanized Cuban-American population has proved famously upwardly mobile in the United States; Mexican-Americans, arriving with less education and less familiarity with urban life, have unhappily done less well.
And today’s Hispanic population is overwhelmingly Mexican-American: 63.4% so in 2002, according to the AILF report. Some 40% of that Mexican-American population is first-generation American, and more than half of those first-generation Mexican-Americans have arrived since 1990.
In other words, the AILF study tries to predict the futures of the grandchildren of today’s Mexican immigrants based on a study of the grandchildren of migrants who arrived half a century ago, under different rules, from a different country. Yglesias calls this “proper longitudinal data.” I call it spinach.
And it gets worse.
For even the AILF is constrained to concede that among Latinos born after 1919, “third-generation Mexican American men experience roughly the same wage gap as their fathers” in the second generation. Indeed, since 1980, progress in closing the gap between third-generation Mexican-Americans and native Anglos has halted almost altogether.
The AILF authors observe that while native-born Latinos are much more likely to finish high school than immigrants, they still drop out at a rate almost double that of Anglos. In any given year, 14% of native-born Latino high school students quit school, as opposed to 8.2% of whites.
As Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute calculates, the high Latino drop-out rate in turn means that while 78% of the white Americans in the class of 1998 graduated from high school on time, only 54% of Hispanics in the class of 1998 did so. Even if those school-leavers return later, or complete a GED, they have seriously damaged their life chances.
The AILF authors grudgingly acknowledge that
The 2002 Latino poverty rate of 21.4% (compared to 7.8% among Anglos) and the fact that only 57% of Latino adults 25 and older were high-school graduates (compared to 88.7% of Anglos) are not problems that can be explained away by the process of socioeconomic advancement across generations.
But of course their paper represents just such an attempt to "explain problems away."
Their own data show that even the grandchildren of the pre-1965 Mexican and Latino population still lag substantially behind native Anglos.
Their data show that the intergenerational progress for Hispanics slowed to a halt after 1980.
Their data show that today’s native-born Hispanics continue to drop out of school at rates nearly double those of Anglos.
And yet on the basis of this same disturbing data, the AILF authors conclude that the very poor, very rural, very uneducated Mexicans arriving illegally today will assimilate just fine over the decades to come.
I share Yglesias’ wish to believe that the current mass migration from Mexico will end well. Even with the strictest enforcement, many millions of the Mexicans who have arrived in the US since 1986 will probably end up staying here. It would be nice to think that they will emulate the experience of the Italians, Greeks, and Poles who arrived before 1924.
Nobody questions that most Mexican migrants work hard and mean well. What is in question are the results of their efforts - for themselves and for the new society that is accepting responsibility for them and their children and grandchildren . So far, those results are troubling. When writers like Samuelson raise those facts, they are showing genuine, not sarcastic, “courage.” And when bloggers like Yglesias jeer at those who mention unwelcome truths, and accept weak research to justify their determination to hear only what pleases them, they are not acting in the spirit of racial tolerance, and much less of serious intellectual inquiry. They are engaged in wishful thinking compounded with intellectual bullying. Not a pretty sight.
05/18 06:40 AM