The Declining Economic Power of Hispanics
February 21, 1997
in this forum:
How has immigration impacted the Hispanic population? Would foreign aid reduce illegal immigration? What part does racism play in Hispanics economic troubles? What role has and should the government play? Are different groups doing better than others? ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
Jan. 2, 1997: Jeffrey Kaye looks at the rising political power of Hispanics.
Oct. 23, 1996: Hispanic Americans fight against a possible backlash against immigration.
A question from the Online NewsHour:
Does racism play a part in the decline in the average family income of Hispanics? If so, how much, and what forms does racism take?
Speaker Cruz Bustamante responds:
I do know that recent data suggests that factors apart from the free market play a role in the declining income of Hispanic families. I do not know if racism is one of these factors, but it certainly may be. The Los Angeles Times conducted an in-depth study on wage disparity among different ethnic groups. It found a wage disparity among the groups even when individuals in those groups had an equivalent educational background. It also found that the wage disparity for Hispanics grew as their educational level increased. In other words while an Anglo plumber and a Latino plumber may have a 10% wage disparity, this disparity is greater between Anglos and Latinos in professional fields such as engineering.
I cannot say that racism is a cause, but this is a question that should certainly be examined with more research. We must examine whether the free market is working equitably, or if adjustments need to be made to count for external factors such as racism.
Linda Chavez responds:
The fuss over the so-called decline in Hispanic family income is almost certainly due to a flawed story that recently appeared in the New York Times. When we look at economic trends among Hispanics, it is of paramount importance to make distinctions between native-born and foreign-born Hispanics. When this was done in the 1990 Census, we saw that Hispanics are making significant socioeconomic gains -- just as immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe did at the start of this century. These gains are most clearly manifested across the generations. We see, for instance, that third-generation Mexican Americans do not look all that different in socioeconomic terms from non-Hispanic whites. The reason we see a "decline" -- which was in fact extremely small but much-hyped by the Times -- is because so many Hispanic immigrants have come here in recent years. With their language barriers, lack of education, and other factors, it's no wonder they would have this effect. But we need to take the long view and understand that assimilation takes time, and that Hispanics will experience it. They are not destined to become a permanent underclass, although many of their self-appointed spokesmen seem to relish victim status.
Let me address the issue of racism. I know that it occurs from time to time. But anti-Hispanic racism is dwarfed by other problems, such as family breakdown, lousy public schools, drug- and crime-ridden neighborhoods, poor English-speaking ability (especially among foreign-born Hispanics), etc. To suggest that racism is a primary cause of Hispanic misery is absurd. So much talk of racism is a distraction from other, more important issues.