Latinos now account for about one in five American children – up from one in 10 three decades ago – thanks largely to a huge influx of Mexican and Central American immigrants that began in 1980, a study released Thursday found.
The American-born children of parents who arrived since the 1980s now make up a majority of Latino youngsters in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.
This second generation of American-born children of at least one Latino immigrant parent now constitute 52 percent of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children, the study found.
Many of those children are also well integrated into the mainstream of American society – assimilating to various degrees depending on how long their parents have lived in the United States. For example, third-generation Latino children are more likely to avoid poverty, but live in single-parent homes, than first generation Latino children.
Families like that of Carlos and Ann Alcaraz of Van Nuys, whose home in a tree-lined neighborhood has nurtured their two daughters and son in the American Dream, are a microcosm of the new report.
“My older sister, Marisa, just got her master’s degree from the University of Southern California, and I’ve been accepted at the University of California, Irvine,” says 18-year-old Christina Alcaraz, who is about to graduate from Cleveland High School.
“You can’t get much more middle-class American than that.”
The new report found a profound change in today’s population of Latino children from those of 1980, before the historic immigration wave from Mexico, Central America and South America.
Like many of today’s Latino youth, one of the Alcaraz’s parents is American-born – their mother – and their father was born abroad.
“My father came here from Tijuana and made a good life for himself and his family,” says Christina Alcaraz.
Sociologists and demographers say families like the Alcarazes show the fundamental change occurring in America.
“They are the future,” said Jorge Garcia, a Chicano Studies professor at California State University, Northridge.
“Historically, it’s the second generation that assimilates and becomes American.”
The new Pew Center study, called “Latino Children: A Majority are U.S.-Born Offspring of Immigrants,” underscores the impact of the immigration boom that began around 1980.
In that year, only three in 10 Latino children were second-generation, or born in the U.S. to at least one immigrant parent. That same year, six in 10 Latino children were in the third generation or higher, meaning their parents or grandparents were born in the United States.
Today, according to the study, those figures are almost reversed. While just over half of Latino children are second-generation, some 37 percent are third-generation or higher.
Latinos now make up more than one out of five children in the United States and, as their numbers have grown, their demographic profile has changed, according to the report.
Pew researchers say the shift in the generational status of Latino children is important because analysis of the most recent U.S. census data indicates that many social, economic and demographic characteristics of Latino children vary sharply by their generational status.
Various indicators of the socioeconomic status of Latino children of U.S.-born parents are higher than for Latino children of immigrant parents.
For instance, third-generation Latino children have better-educated parents than their second- and first-generation peers and were more likely to live in households with annual incomes of at least $75,000.
“Some of these children’s families have been in the country for many generations,” the report said. “In fact, persons of Hispanic descent resided in the United States before the American Revolution.”
But among first-generation Latino children, 43 percent are not fluent in English, compared with one in five second-generation Hispanic children and 5 percent of third-generation children.
“English ability matters because it is highly related to educational test score performance and high school completion,” the study said.
First-generation Latino children were more likely to live in poverty.
But the report said health-based and other indicators suggest Latino children in immigrant families fare better in some dimensions.
For instance, almost seven in 10 first-generation Latino children live in married-couple families, just below the figure for second-generation children. But only slightly more than half of third-generation and higher children live in a married couple household.
The report also concluded that the number of Latino children who are “second generation” may soon peak, though the percentage of Hispanics born in the U.S. with at least one immigrant parent is still on the rise.
“Demographic projections,” the report said, “suggest that among the entire Hispanic population, the second-generation will not peak until at least 2050.”
By Tony Castro