Children of immigrants start life better off than U.S.-born children-but advantages erased over time
According to “Diverse Children: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in America’s New Non-Majority Generation,” the children of Latino immigrants are more likely than the children of Latino U.S.-born parents to live in a family with at least one securely employed parent and are less likely to live in a one-parent family. These children were also less likely to be born at a low birth rate and also had lower rates of infant mortality. They were also healthier than the children of Latino U.S.-born parents and less likely to have a physical disability. The children of Hispanic immigrant parents were also more likely to be in school or working in their teen years.
“This study shows that contrary to what many people think of immigrants, their children do begin life well in the United States,” says Dr. Donald J. Hernandez, a professor of Sociology at Hunter College in New York City and the study’s lead author. “Hispanics come here with strong family structures, traditional cultural diets and a work ethic which motivates them to find and maintain employment.”
The study is the first of its kind to compare the well-being of children born to both immigrant and U.S.-born parents across black, Asian, Hispanic and white groups. It examined how children fare across 19 different indicators including family economic resources, parental employment status, reading and math proficiency, as well as health care insurance enrollment rates. Using national 2010 statistics compiled by federal databases including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), researchers found the children of Hispanic immigrants begin life with an advantage over the children of U.S. born-Hispanics.
Over time, the advantages of immigrant children are erased, explains Hernandez.
The overall well-being of Hispanic children with immigrant parents ranked just behind that of black children with U.S. parents – ranked the most disadvantaged group – across of all 19 indicators. Seventy-one percent of Hispanic children fell twice below the federal poverty threshold (compared to 65 percent of all black children with U.S.-born parents). The median family income for Hispanic children with immigrant parents was also ranked lower than other groups at ($29,977) but just ahead of black children with U.S.-born parents ($33,396). Researchers found that Hispanic children of immigrant parents also had a lower rates of health insurance coverage than other groups, but were still ahead of black children with U.S.-born parents (19 percent compared to 15 percent).
Pre-kindergarten enrollment among Latino immigrant children in 2010 was lower than any other group at just 37 percent. Among Hispanic children of U.S.-born parents, only 42 percent were enrolled in pre-k, compared to other race-ethnic groups with enrollment rates of 50 and 55 percent.
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These factors help erase any advantages Hispanic children of immigrant parents have over their peers born to U.S.-born parents, says Hernandez, and these very same children are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to live in low-income families, less likely to have health insurance and be in good health, he adds. This may lead to severe health, educational and economic disparities across the Latino population in future years.
Hernandez explains that when immigrants adopt a less healthy diet — one that relies on more processed foods with high sugar and fat content — this can lead to poor health. They may be “stuck” in low-level jobs, he says, and are therefore unable to move up the economic ladder to jobs that may lead to better salaries and health care coverage. Many of these immigrant parents also speak Spanish as their primary language. As English Language Learners, they may be unable to help their children navigate the educational system and aid them with school work that can help prepare them for future success.
While these disadvantages are less than optimistic, Hernandez says these statistics should offer incentive for those in positions of influence to implement policies he thinks can help “set standards of equality for all children.” Among these Hernandez includes national mandatory pre-k enrollment, increased investment in English Language Learner curricula and teachers, and universal health care programs.
“It’s important now to focus on the health, education and prosperity of Hispanic children because of the growth in this population – as it stands, the children of immigrants accounts for one of every four children,” says Hernandez. By 2018, less than half of the children in the United States will be white.
“We will be moving towards a non-majority generation of children. This means that Hispanics will shortly form the majority of the labor force, and it’s important that they move forward and become an educated and highly skilled labor force – that’s essential if our country is able to compete on a global economic scale. It’s in the self-interest of all American[s] to see all of our children healthy and well-educated.”