As the U.S.-born children of Latino immigrants reach adulthood, new data suggest that they will fare better than their immigrant peers thanks to pursuing education before work. However, this success initially comes as a tradeoff, as young immigrant Latinos fare better in the labor market than their native-born counterparts, with the native born pulling ahead in adulthood.
The Growing Second Generation
Much of the U.S. Latino population's growth in past decades has been fueled by international migration. However, recent projections indicate that while the number of Latinos will continue to grow rapidly, the sources of growth are shifting markedly.
For the foreseeable future, much of the growth will be among U.S.-born Latinos, as the large U.S.-born second generation of Latinos matures. The fortunes of Hispanics will increasingly depend on the success of the U.S.-born children of these immigrants. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the population of working-age Latino immigrants will reach 13 million by 2025, an increase of about four million people. The accompanying native-born Latino population of working age is projected to reach 24 million in the same timeframe, an increase of 14 million.
The great size of this Latino second generation has stimulated a substantial body of research on the health and well-being of the children of immigrants (see, for example, Rubén Rumbaut's article in The Source's May 2002 issue). However, the Latino second generation is now moving beyond adolescence and maturing into young adulthood. The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank devoted to improving understanding of the Latino population in the U.S., has been investigating labor market activities and outcomes, as well as educational attainment and school enrollment, for Latino adults by generational status, using the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) as the major data source.
The center's May 2002 Work or Study report concentrated on comparing and contrasting the differing labor market fortunes of Latino generations during their teen years and prime working years. During the late adolescent years, young people make critical choices and tradeoffs regarding further schooling versus work experience. Interestingly, young Latinos are pursuing radically different activities, depending on their nativity, and the evidence suggests that the differing focus will have clear implications for adult success during their prime working years.
Prior research shows that the outcomes of immigrants' lives are associated with their age-at-arrival in the United States. The center distinguishes between Latino immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after age 13 ("generation 1.0") and those who arrived in the U.S. by age 13 ("generation 1.5"). Arrival by age 13 is associated with a markedly different schooling and earnings trajectory than arrival after age 13. Some of the center's findings include: Among 25 to 44-year-olds, 55 percent of Latino immigrants that arrived after age 13 had not finished high school. Among similar immigrants who arrived by age 13, 38 percent had not completed high school. In terms of pay, the typical earnings of 25 to 44-year-old immigrants who arrived after age 13 is $340 per week. Their peers who arrived in the U.S. by age 13 have average earnings of $400 per week.
Immigrant Latino Teens Earn Most: Among teens age 16-19, the first generation of Latinos fare much better in the labor market than their second-generation counterparts. Immigrant Latino teens outperform white teenagers on some key labor market indicators. First-generation Latino teens are the highest-paid members of their age group, earning more than either white or black teens (see Figure 1). The median wage for first-generation Latino teens was $260 per week in 2000, three-quarters more than the $150 median wage paid to white and black teens. The Latino 1.5-generation teens averaged $209 per week; in contrast, median wages for the second-generation Latino teen were about $180 per week. The favorable earnings outcomes for first-generation Latino teens are also apparent in a variety of other labor market indicators.
School vs. Work: Much of the apparent earnings success of first-generation Latino teens can be traced to their different orientation toward work and education, when compared with their native-born counterparts.
Pursuing education appears to be a subsidiary activity for immigrant Latino teens, whereas it is the primary endeavor for most native-born U.S. teens, whether Latino, African-American or white. Thirty-eight percent of immigrant Latino youth work full-time (more than 34 hours of work per week). The proportion is even higher for youth of Mexican descent. Forty-four percent of first-generation Mexicans in the 16-19 age bracket work full-time. Less than 13 percent of their second-generation counterparts work full-time, similar to the 14 percent of white youth who work full-time and nine percent of black youth who work full-time.
U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS)
Compared to their immigrant counterparts, second-generation Latino youths are much more likely to be in school. Two-thirds of second-generation Hispanic teens are enrolled in school (similar to the 70 percent of white and black youth). Only 23 percent of first-generation Latino teens are enrolled in school.
Teens to Adults -- The Second Generation Surpasses the Immigrant Generation: Compared to their first-generation counterparts, second-generation youth display less advantageous labor market outcomes during their teenage years. They earn less, have much higher unemployment rates, lower job holding, and work fewer hours per week. In the long run, however, they typically benefit from their focus on schooling during their teenage years. Schooling leads to additional education, and the U.S. labor market highly rewards additional education.
The center is currently comparing second-generation 25 to 44-year-olds to other groups of 25 to 44-year-old workers. If today's youth fare as well as today's 25 to 44-year-old adults are faring, then it is probable that second-generation youth will come out far ahead of their first-generation counterparts in terms of both educational attainment (high school completion and college education) and labor market outcomes, including weekly earnings, job holding, and lower unemployment rates.
Adult Latinos of the 1.5 generation are immigrants, but by definition they arrived in the U.S. by age 13. By age 25, the 1.5 generation has been here a long time, been educated in U.S. schools, and had the benefit of exposure to U.S. norms, institutions, and language during their formative childhood years.
By adulthood, second-generation Latinos are significantly ahead of their foreign-born 1.5-generation counterparts who have been in the U.S. for a long time. Among 25 to 44-year-old adults, about 20 percent of the second generation lacks a high school diploma (versus seven percent of the comparable non-Hispanic whites). But nearly 40 percent of the Latino adult 1.5 generation have not finished high school. Second-generation Latinos are also significantly more likely to have gone on to college than their 1.5 counterparts.
These investments in education tend to be rewarded in the labor market. The median pay of second-generation Latino adults in their prime working years substantially exceeds that of the 1.5 generation in their prime age, even though both are born of immigrants and the sole substantive differences between them are where they were born and where they spend their early childhood.
While prime-age second-generation Latinos are more successful in the labor market than their 1.5 counterparts, they still trail white 25 to 44-year-olds. The median earnings of 25 to 44-year-old second generation Latinos was $500 per week in 2000, compared to $600 per week among whites and $461 per week among blacks.
In short, the economic progress of first-generation Latino teens appears confined to their early work life. By age 25, second-generation Latinos are substantially ahead of their immigrant counterparts, including 1.5-generation immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a very long time. Immigrant Latino teens are focused on work and have little involvement with formal schooling. Second-generation teens are more marginally attached to the labor market and are much more engaged with formal schooling.
The Growing, Changing Latino Adult Population
The large group of second-generation children of Latino immigrants is now maturing and changing the fortunes of the Latino population. Researchers are currently turning their focus from K?12 education outcomes to college enrollment, early family formation, young adult behaviors, and the career prospects of the children of immigrants. Early labor market evidence suggests that the native-born children of Latino immigrants fare much better in adulthood than their immigrant peers, but still remain far from parity with the white majority on average. This is a conjectural conclusion from available data, and much should be learned as the "new second generation" matures.