Education data encouraging for Hispanics

Freedom New Mexico

A new study of Hispanic youth in the United States offers interesting data about one of the country’s fastest-growing groups. For political and social leaders, it has valuable information about their attitudes and risks for the future. It also can help dispel many myths and assumptions about them.

The Pew Hispanic Center on Friday released the report, which includes a survey of Hispanic youth along with demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In some cases the survey results contradict the actual data. For example, while they show the high school dropout rate remains high — it’s triple the rate of Anglo youths and nearly double the rate for African-Americans — it drops as the children of immigrants assimilate into U.S. culture.

Seventeen percent of all Hispanic youth ages 16-24 had dropped out of school, but that figure falls to 8.5 percent among second-generation Hispanics. That’s roughly the same as the rate for all Americans of the same age. However, it rises again with the third generation.

In addition, 89 percent of the 2,012 people surveyed said they believe a college education is important for succeeding in life, although just 83 percent of them actually finish high school.

The information suggests many young Latinos leave school because they feel obliged to, not because they want to. Language and the fact that more than one in five Hispanic youths live in poverty are likely factors.

Twenty-nine percent of Hispanic immigrants live under the poverty line. That number drops to 19 percent for second-generation Americans, but rises to 21 percent in the third generation.

The data suggest that while immigrants have trouble finishing their studies, they seem more inclined to push their children to stay in school, although those attitudes seem to relax in subsequent generations.

Teen pregnancy can also affect the dropout rate; 26 percent of Hispanic women had given birth by age 19, although that number fell to 16 percent in the second generation.

Interestingly, those polled grew more assertive of their Hispanic identity even as they became more American. Just 16 percent of younger respondents identified themselves as white, while up to 30 percent of older Hispanics did.

But they’re clearly American. Hispanics assimilate quickly into U.S. society, and adopt this country’s attitudes. Immigrant and second-generation Hispanics tend to be conservative, while later generations grow more liberal regarding such issues as gay marriage, church participation and abortion.

These data expose the lie among nativists and xenophobes who assert — wrongly — that immigrants want to change American culture. Their influence is felt, but they clearly adopt more cultural mores than they impart.

But even Hispanics revealed apparent faulty assumptions. Although 31 percent said they knew or had been exposed to gang members, only 3 percent said they actually belonged to gangs.

Overall, they are optimistic. Some 74 percent of second-generation Hispanics said they expected to be financially better off than their parents, and that number rises to 78 percent in the third generation.

But while the Latino population is gaining strength in numbers and social influence, political influence and voter participation remains low.

Social and political leaders would do well to review the information. It can dispel inaccuracies foisted by those who seek to demonize immigrants and minorities. Other information can help officials look at what trends they can support, and what problems they can work to improve.

Those problems do exist, but the overall information in this report gives us reason to share our youth’s optimism.