||Ladder to American Success
Children of Immigrants Do Much Better Than Parents' Generation, Study Shows
Verenisa Alfaro has two master's degrees, owns a home and considers herself solidly middle class. Her Mexican immigrant parents have a third-grade education, held low-paying jobs and still rent in a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Ms. Alfaro's success may be more prevalent than most people think, according to a study released recently, which found that adult children of immigrants are substantially better off than the immigrant generation. By key measures -- including education, home ownership and income -- they are at least as successful as the general U.S. population.
The independent Pew Research Center based its assessment of the 20 million adult children of immigrants on census data and national surveys. It found that the majority are likely to speak English proficiently and consider themselves "a typical American."
The report offers one of the first snapshots of the adult offspring of the massive, four-decade wave of newcomers to this country, mainly from Latin America and Asia.
"Initial signs are that in terms of economic progress, educational achievement and social integration, they are following the classic path of children of immigrants, doing better than the immigrants themselves," said Paul Taylor, Pew's executive vice president.
The report comes as Congress considers an overhaul of the immigration system to offer legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom have U.S.-born children.
"The success of the children of immigrants is crucial in measuring the long-term costs and benefits of immigration," said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research has found that even the children of the most disadvantaged immigrant groups have progressed in education at about the same rate as earlier ones.
The impact on the country of U.S.-born offspring of immigrants will grow rapidly as more of them join the ranks of voters and workers. The U.S. is home to 16 million children of immigrants who are 17 or younger.
In particular, the U.S. economy will depend on these residents to replace hundreds of thousands of retiring baby boomers in the work force. From 2012 to 2050, the working-age population of the children of immigrants will nearly triple, compared with an 83% increase among immigrants and 32% for adults overall, according to Pew projections.
Some scholars question whether the children of today's immigrants will see the same upward mobility enjoyed by the offspring of European arrivals in the past. A quarter of today's immigrants are illegal and contend with obstacles that may have negative effects on their children. Many of these children attend crowded, underperforming schools, and the loss of manufacturing jobs has undermined a traditional path to the middle class for low-skilled workers.
As a group, the adult children of immigrants are more educated than both immigrant adults and the overall population. More than a third have at least a bachelor's degree, and only 10% of them lack a high-school diploma.
About a quarter of Hispanic and Asian adults with immigrant parents have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. "The kids who get a higher education are in environments where they meet and marry people outside their group," says Steve Trejo, an economics professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has studied intergenerational progress of immigrant groups.
There are differences among groups. Asian immigrants tend to have more formal education than Latin Americans. Likewise, 55% of children of Asian immigrants have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 21% of children of Hispanic immigrants.
Jody Vallejo, a University of Southern California sociologist who wrote a book about the Mexican-American middle class, said it isn't surprising that the children of Asian immigrants are successful, given their parents' education levels. "What is particularly important is that second-generation Latinos are doing better than the first generation," she said.
Three-quarters of children of Asian-American immigrants and 67% of children of Hispanic immigrants said their standard of living is better than that of their parents at the same stage of life. In contrast, 60% of the overall U.S. population feels this way.
Ms. Alfaro, the 39-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants, is a clinical social worker and owns a three-bedroom house in a tree-lined suburb with good public schools. Her father, who said he snuck into the U.S. clinging to trains, worked for four decades as a cook at a Beverly Hills, Calif., tennis club and raised his family in a one-bedroom apartment in a gritty part of downtown Los Angeles.
"This country has provided so much for me," Ms. Alfaro said. "I live a more comfortable life than my parents. And, it's going to be way better for my son."
(Source: The Wall Street Journal, 02/08/13)
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