- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006


One of every seven U.S. residents is Hispanic, and that eventually will increase to nearly one of every four, according to a study that calls for improved education to integrate the minority group into society.

“Failure to close Hispanics’ education and language gap risks compromising their ability to both contribute to and share in national prosperity,” said the study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies.

Lack of education and English fluency “unchains a whole series of events” leading to an inability for people to build themselves up economically, buy homes or raise families, said Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation at the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Despite concern about immigrants’ language fluency, the report said, the grandchildren of current immigrants most likely will speak mainly English.

The key question for the future, the report said, is whether being Hispanic will evolve into a symbolic identity — as has happened with other groups such as Americans of Italian, Polish, German and Irish descent — “or whether it will become an enduring marker of disadvantaged minority group status.”

Most immigrant communities become ethnic groups within three generations as a result of intermarriages, improved ability to speak English, residence in integrated neighborhoods and improved economic status, the report said.

Intermarriage is rising among U.S.-born Hispanics, the report said, and Spanish fluency is eroding across generations and the longer people are in this country.

Areas densely populated by Hispanics create the false impression that the United States is becoming a bilingual nation, the report states, but in reality this is a temporary phenomenon because of large numbers of recent immigrants.

The Hispanic population is diverse, ranging from families that have resided in this country since the days of the earliest Spanish colonies to the millions of recent immigrants, many of them undocumented.

The most recent estimates from the Census Bureau show 40.5 million Hispanics in a U.S. population of 285.7 million in 2004. The bureau estimates that immigration and natural increases are adding 1.5 million Hispanics annually, a growth rate that will lead them to make up nearly 25 percent of the population by 2050.

A separate analysis of immigrants’ health by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the longer Hispanics live in the United States, the more likely they are to become obese and to develop diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

It found that 22 percent of Hispanics who have been in the country five years or more are obese, the same as the native-born population, but up from the 16.1 percent who have been here for less than five years. The 22 percent of Hispanics who are obese is the same as the percentage of natives who are obese.

High blood pressure climbs from 13.4 percent for newer arrivals to 19.8 percent for those here longer, but still less than the 24.3 percent average for the native-born population.

Hispanic immigrants are among those least likely to have health insurance, the report said.

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