U.S.-born children of Mexican, Haitian and West Indian immigrants suffer from higher levels of incarceration
While the vast majority of young adult children of immigrants experience upward economic and social mobility, a new study finds that a significant minority are suffering from lower levels of education, lower incomes, higher birth rates and higher levels of incarceration. Furthermore, it is the U.S.-born children of Mexican, Haitian and West Indian immigrants who experience these problems in the largest proportions.
The study, led by sociologists Rubén G. Rumbaut of UC Irvine and Alejandro Portes of Princeton University, appears online this week in the Migration Information Source. The largest and longest-running study of children of immigrants yet conducted, the study also confirms the critical importance of education.
“The greatest educational disadvantage is found among children of Mexican immigrants and Laotian and Cambodian refugees in our sample – close to 40 percent of whom did not go beyond a high school diploma,” said Rumbaut. “Education is the key to successful upward mobility among children of immigrants, so the discrepancies that emerge in educational achievement among immigrant groups tend to persist in trends for income, employment and incarceration.”
The researchers also point to the influence of human capital (the skills and education of immigrant parents) as well as family structure, racial prejudice and government policies toward certain immigrant groups – particularly the undocumented – that influence this “downward assimilation” process.
The researchers found that children of Laotian and Cambodian Americans as well as Haitian Americans had the lowest median annual household income at just over $25,000. They were followed closely by Mexican American families, which had a median annual household income of about $30,000. On the other end of the spectrum, children of upper-middle-class Cuban exiles in Southern Florida reported a household income of more than $70,000, and Filipino Americans in Southern California had more than $64,000, followed by Chinese immigrants.
Furthermore, the study found that the most educationally and economically disadvantaged children of immigrants were most likely to have children of their own at a young age, compounding their difficulties at pursuing higher education. When surveyed at the average age of 24, none of the Chinese Americans had children, while in contrast 25 percent of Haitians, West Indians, Laotians and Cambodians did, as did 41 percent of Mexican American young adults.
Differences in arrest and incarceration rates are also noteworthy, particularly among second-generation, U.S.-born, males. While only 10 percent of second-generation immigrant males in the survey had been incarcerated, that figure jumped to 20 percent among West Indian and Mexican American youths.
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