3rd Generation Mexican-Americans Face Tough Times

Oct 12, 2011
Originally published on October 12, 2011 7:24 am
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And there are more kids like Victor than ever before because the Hispanic population is now growing more because of births than immigration, which means there are now more children of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. than immigrants.


That should translate into more progress educationally and economically because historically each new generation does better than the first - historically, but not always.

MONTAGNE: Our next guest, Steve Trejo, is an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, where he's looked closely at Mexican-Americans, the largest group of Latinos in this country. He's found that the third generation of Mexican Americans hasn't fared as well as would be expected.

STEVE TREJO: The puzzle to me is that if you look at the U.S.-born children, the second generation of current U.S. immigrant groups, all these other groups - Asian groups and white groups - by the second generation they've caught up with third and higher generation whites in terms of earnings, in terms of education. The outliers, the groups that that isn't the case for are Mexicans, Dominicans, Central Americans.

MONTAGNE: Well, then how do you account for the lag?

TREJO: What I can tell you is that Mexican immigrants arrived with on average about nine years of schooling. If we look at the U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants, when they grow up, you know, they have over 12 years of schooling. So that's a lot of progress between those two generations. But then average education levels don't really go up very much for third and higher generations Mexicans, compared to second-generation Mexicans.

So I think there is some progress there. I just think Mexicans are starting from a lower level and it's going to take a little longer.

MONTAGNE: What about geographic differences within the U.S.? Are Mexican-Americans more likely to advance in their careers and also in their education levels in cities, say, on the East Coast or in the Midwest, than they would in Border States like Texas and California?

TREJO: Yeah. No, it's certainly true that if you look at Mexican-Americans in different parts of the country, Mexican-Americans who live outside of high concentrations of Mexicans - so Mexican-Americans who live outside of California and Texas - tend to have more education, tend to have higher earnings, tend to look like their more successful.

The issue is what's causing what there. Is it, you know, that probably reflects the fact that people who got the English proficiency and the education to move out of enclaves, you know, had opportunities to earn more money outside of enclaves. Or else, their children moved outside of the enclaves. And so, I think that reflects more the selectivity of who migrated, rather than the fact that areas outside of enclaves are more hospitable to Mexican-American success.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking about your work and the data you've collected about Mexican-Americans. How does that group compare to other groups of Latinos or Hispanics?

TREJO: Most Hispanic groups look pretty similar to Mexicans. Puerto Ricans look similar in the kind of patterns of progress across generations. Central Americans look similar. Dominicans look similar.

The one group that stands out as being different among Hispanic groups it's Cubans. And a lot of that has to do with the selectivity of their migration flow. A lot of the immigrants who initially came from Cuba in the 1960s were professionals; doctors, lawyers, highly-educated people who were fleeing Castro and the changes that were occurring in Cuba. And so, that was a very skilled group and they got lots of help from the U.S. government when they arrived.

And their children are doing great. You know, second and third generation Cuban-Americans have higher education levels than the average white American. But Cubans are kind of the exception among the Latino groups.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

TREJO: Sure.

MONTAGNE: Steve Trejo studies economic growth among Mexican-Americans. He's an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

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