- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

Young Hispanics born in the United States are less likely to drop out of school and live in poverty than Hispanic immigrants of their age, but they have higher exposure to gangs and violence, an independent research group says.

The study released Friday by the Pew Hispanic Center paints a mixed picture of assimilation for a fast-growing group of U.S. citizens starting to wield its political rights: more education and job advancement, but also social problems.

The survey and analysis of census data found the high school dropout rate among Hispanic youths ages 16 to 24 was 17 percent, about three times higher than white youths and close to double the rate for black youths. But when looking only at second-generation Hispanics born in the United States, the dropout rate falls to 8.5 percent, about the same as youths of all races.

U.S.-born Hispanics also had improvements in economic well-being. About 29 percent of young immigrant Hispanics lived below the poverty line, more than twice the rate for young whites in a similar age range (13 percent) and about the same as young blacks (28 percent). But among second-generation Hispanics, the figure living below the poverty line improves to 19 percent.

On the other hand, the American-born youths were twice as likely as their immigrant counterparts to have exposure to a gang or to have gotten into a fight or carried a weapon in the past year. About 40 percent reported either being a gang member or knowing a friend or relative who was, compared with 17 percent for those who were foreign-born.

Young Hispanics typically reported that their gang contacts were indirect: Overall, just 3 percent said they are now or have been a gang member.

U.S.-born Hispanics also were more likely to be in prison and perceive instances of racial discrimination.

“It is clear that many of today’s Latino youths, be they first or second generation, are straddling two worlds as they adapt to the new homeland,” the Pew report said.

The findings come as a growing number of children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants are being born in this country. Currently, two-thirds of Hispanics ages 16 to 25 are U.S.-born citizens. Due to high birth rates, these U.S. citizens will fuel a doubling of the overall Hispanic population to 30 percent by 2050.

In electoral terms, Hispanics have had less clout at the polls than their numbers would suggest.

“Their share of the electorate has not grown nearly as much as their share of the population,” said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. “Now, with the coming of age of this big generation of U.S.-born children of immigrants, that’s all about to change.”

The changes could shift the nation’s political discourse. According to the study, young U.S.-born Hispanics tend to be less conservative than immigrants, at least on cultural issues. Nearly two-thirds, or 65 percent, of foreign-born youths say abortion should be illegal, compared with 58 percent of those in the second generation and 39 percent in the third generation or higher.

About 40 percent of young foreign-born Hispanics say they attend church weekly, while about one-third of Hispanics in the second and third generation and higher say the same. On gay marriage, about 40 percent of young immigrants and second-generation Hispanics say they favored it, compared with 52 percent for Hispanics from the third generation and higher.

Pew based its findings on 2008-09 data and interviews with 2,012 Hispanics ages 16 and older by cell phone or landline from Aug. 5 to Sept. 16. The survey’s margin of error is 3.7 percentage points for all respondents, higher for subgroups.

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