U.S.-Born Latinos Moving Rapidly into Middle Class

Monday February 26 01:02 PM EST
Latino households considered middle-class grew 80 percent over the last two decades -- from 1.5 million to 2.7 million, according to a survey by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, based in Claremont, Calif. Its findings contradict long-held stereotypes: that Latinos ignore educational opportunities and are poor. Forty-two percent of native-born Latino households reached middle-class status in 1998 -- earning $40,000 or more annually. This increase is three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites. With growing numbers graduating from college, Latinos generally achieve economic parity by the end of the third or fourth generation. Because of the impact of the arrival of recent immigrants on Latino earnings and educational attainment, especially among Mexican-Americans, the study's authors suggest that Latino subgroups should be treated individually in collection of data. ''There is a need to disaggregate Hispanics by native-born, immigrant and by different backgrounds because of the variance,'' said Rodolfo de la Garza, TRPI vice president of research and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He added that for political reasons, it is seen as favorable to aggregate the communities because of the strength in numbers.
Of the Latino subgroups surveyed, those of Cuban origin had the highest median household incomes in 1998, followed by those from Central and South America. While incomes for both native- and foreign-born Latinos grew on par from 1979 to 1989, incomes for households led by native-born Latinos rose $4,000 from 1989 to 1998. Incomes for foreign-born Latinos, many of whom arrive with less education and fewer marketable skills, dropped about the same amount during that period. Stephen Trejo, one of the survey's authors, said incomes among the U.S. Cuban community are higher than the other groups because Cubans came over here with a strong educational foundation and they received assistance from the federal government. Trejo, an associate professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, added that Cuban families also invest more money in their children's education. Unlike Mexicans and Central Americans, who send billions of dollars to their countries of origin annually, Cubans have been restricted from doing so. Part of the growth of middle-class U.S. Latino households is due to the fact that more individuals are pursuing educational opportunities. Latinos spent about the same proportion of their income on education as non-Hispanic whites in 1998, the study found. Despite this, an educational, and hence an earnings, gap persists between Latinos and their white counterparts. In 1998, non-Hispanic white men with a college education earned about $15,000 more than native-born Latinos and about $20,000 more than African-American men. However, earnings for native-born Latinas with college degrees are just about equal to those of non-Hispanic white and African-American women. The survey concluded that as they continue to enter the work force in larger numbers, Latinas will be the impetus for the continued growth of the Latino middle class.
This information highlighting the growth of Latino household incomes and the middle class is important but often overlooked or disregarded by the mainstream press, which too frequently paints the entire Latino community with one brush stroke, according to TRPI president Dr. Harry Pachón. This helps create a public perception of Latinos as a victimized community. This view varies from state to state, he said. ''Inside the Beltway, they are seen as largely immigrants, and (lawmakers) come up with the wrong policy recommendations because of the wrong perception,'' he said. De la Garza and Trejo noted that governmental leaders need to create separate policies to address the needs faced by Latino immigrants and those of U.S.-native Latinos. The survey is based on data from the 1980 and 1990 U.S. Census of Population and Housing and Current Population Survey samples released annually in March. Income and earnings were adjusted for inflation and are presented in 1998 dollars.

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