Latino Demographic Shift

October 14, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: Latino births in the United States are outpacing Latino immigration. That’s the finding of a new report out today by the Pew Hispanic Center. Over the next 20 years, U.S.- born second-generation Latinos, whose experiences and views are much different than their immigrant parents, will more than double.

With us to discuss the impact of this demographic shift on the labor force, education, politics, and overall public policy is Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center and a co-author of the report. His project is partially supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also help fund the work of the NewsHour media unit. Roberto Suro, welcome. What’s significant about these findings to you?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, we’re all used to the idea that the growth of Latino population is one of the key demographic events of our day. What this report signals is a change in the character of that growth: A shift from immigrant growth to that of native born children. It presents a whole different series of policy issues, different character, different impact on the country.

TERENCE SMITH: And if you look and take some of those one at a time for example, the impact on schools.

ROBERTO SURO: Well, the Latino second generation is pouring into the nation schools. And they’re going from roughly about 7 percent of the school age population to about 14 percent in 20 years. It’s an enormous growth. And their future will be very much determined by what happens in the public school systems over the next 20 years.

You have this new population coming in at a time when the K through 12 system is under going very dramatic change as a matters of federal policy with “no child left behind” and other changes. So it’s a real interesting confluence of demographic events and policy changes.

TERENCE SMITH: We should make clear that you’re talking about American citizens born in this country, I assume speak predominantly English as their principal language?

ROBERTO SURO: Yeah, absolutely. The transference from Spanish to English is almost complete in one generation. They are U.S. Citizens by birth and they’ll be the products of U.S. schools.

TERENCE SMITH: And you mentioned briefly the work force. What is the impact there as they come out of school and go into the work force?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, about two-thirds of this population, the now numbers ten million and is growing very quickly is under 18 now, they’re moving into the work force very quickly. The number of Latino workers second generation workers will triple in the next 20 years. They’re essentially the main source of new workers as the baby boom generation starts to retire. So they’ll play a very important role in our economy going forward.

TERENCE SMITH: Do you have any data on how their attitudes may be different from their parents, the first generation to come here?

ROBERTO SURO: Yeah, I mean, we are talking about children who are born and raised in this country and their attitudes are much more within the parameters of American opinion than their children.

On social issues, for example, like abortion, homosexuality where Spanish speaking immigrants are very conservative their English speaking children tend to reflect much more sort of the array of opinions that you see in the American population overall.

TERENCE SMITH: Is the experience of this group different than that of previous immigrant groups that have come to this country over the last three centuries?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, I think it’s different in one important respect, which is these kids are moving into an information economy where education is very much the determiner of economic success. A hundred years ago the children of European immigrants moved into an industrial economy where there was a more gradual progress in terms of the educational requirements. Here where about three-quarters of the parents of these kids have a high school education or less. And we’re asking them to produce knowledge workers for an information economy. So there’s a big leap that’s taking place in these households and one that requires a lot of help from the public schools.

TERENCE SMITH: Is the educational system sets up to do that?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, that’s, I think, the question that this demographic change presents. And that’s going to be one of the important shifts here, our focus has been on immigration issues for the last 20 years, I think in the next 20 years the focus is really going to be on the performance of the educational system. And on the performance of Latino families in the educational system.

TERENCE SMITH: And to be clear, you’re talking about basically an acceleration of a migration that’s gone on for certainly decades in this country, but I take it you’re talking about a rapid acceleration?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, this is the, it’s the demographic echo of that migration. We’ve had very substantial inflows from Latin America for 20 years. Mostly of people in their child bearing years, and they proved very fertile, and now we’re getting their children. And so it’s sort of the next stage in the demographic change that starts with immigration, 20 years later what you get is a rising second generation.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there a measurable cultural impact on culture in society of the United States when you have a group of this size, multiplying as it is?

ROBERTO SURO: Well, that’s a really interesting question, and one, because this is still such a young population, average age about 13, we really don’t know how they’re going to shape their identity. We don’t know how much they’ll see themselves as Latinos, and how much they’ll mobilize on an ethnic basis. What the cultural inferences will be the shape of. And it’s the one thing we do know for sure is that the growth of that identity will have an enormous impact on the country as a whole, through the first decades of this century.

TERENCE SMITH: And finally, briefly, you’re talking about a demographic shift is that definitely going to happen, it is happening?

ROBERTO SURO: It’s happening, it’s happened substantially. The second generation is already growing faster than the first, and even if immigration were to continue at a very high levels, even if it were to increase, you still get this demographic echo coming on. So this is pretty much a done deal.

TERENCE SMITH: Roberto Suro, thanks so much for joining us.

ROBERTO SURO: A pleasure.