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Hot topic: 'America's Hispanics'
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Hot topic: 'America's Hispanics'

The linked issues of immigration and America’s growing Hispanic population have generated what has become a permanent public argument. Everybody in the country, it seems – especially in Arizona -- has an opinion, and often a fierce one. So it might be worth hearing what the issue looks like from outside the U.S., especially from a viewpoint that prides itself on a rational, balanced approach to even the hottest of topics. 

Earlier this month, The Economist, London’s venerable international news magazine, published a “Special Report on America’s Hispanics,” addressing subjects from religious faith to popular music. So what’s the view from across the Atlantic?

First, a few notable, if familiar, numbers:

  • Every year around 900,000 Hispanics born in America reach voting age.
  • If Hispanic-Americans were a country, they would rank 16th in population in the world.
  • Of the 17 million Hispanic children in the country, some 93% are native-born citizens.
  • The median age of American Whites is 42; of American-born Hispanics, 18.
  • America will soon have as many Whites over 65 as White children. Among non-Whites, children outnumber the old by four to one.
  • One in four public school students are Hispanic.
  • Non-Hispanic Whites will lose their majority status around 2044.

So is all this to be celebrated or lamented? If one approaches the question with “cool rationality,” the magazine says, one notes that other advanced Western economies are

ageing and shrinking and “societies are becoming timid, peevish and introspective.” America, meanwhile, is lucky to have millions of energetic young people.

However, even The Economist recognizes that rationality does not always prevail in such discussions. So it notes a more visceral set of reasons for White Americans to welcome Latino newcomers: “If older Americans are dismayed by how society is changing as traditional families grow weaker and neighborhood bonds wither, then Latinos are their cultural allies.” It notes that Hispanics tend to be more religious, and remain fixated on the American Dream of home ownership, a college education and upward mobility. In opinion polls, Hispanics are more likely than the average American to agree that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard.”

The Economist is a respected news weekly that first published in 1843. It has referred to its political position as the “extreme center.” It has supported both Republican and Democratic causes and candidates; for example, it backed Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, but also Bill Clinton (before calling for his impeachment) and Barack Obama. It supports free markets and free trade, but also gay marriage and gun control.

So what’s not to like?

The Economist avoids the more rabid arguments against Hispanic immigration, but notes that young Hispanics are currently less likely than Whites to graduate from high school and complete college degrees. Adult Hispanics are half as likely as Whites to work as managers or professionals, and fewer of them own their homes. It also raises another “question mark:” While earlier immigrant groups usually registered progress with each new generation, American-born children of Hispanic immigrants tend to be less healthy than their parents, have higher divorce rates and go to jail more often.

But these, the magazine believes, are temporary and fixable. “Fears that Hispanics are doomed by culture and numbers to import the troubles of their home countries are overblown, just as they were when earlier waves of Italian and Irish migrants caused alarm. People do not leave their countries to reproduce the pathologies they left behind.”

The Founding Fathers considered immigration important enough to  include it in the Declaration of Independence, charging that King George “has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”

The magazine cited one other possible downside of the growth among young Hispanics: rising political conflict with older Whites. This has elsewhere been captured in the phrase “The Brown vs. the Gray.” On one side are the shrinking numbers of Grays – in or near retirement – who are frightened and angered by the nation’s cultural changes and determined to retain or even expand their benefits. On the other is the growing population of Browns who want more public funding for day care, education and job training. Sound familiar? American Demographer William Frey is cited as saying that “states with the harshest anti-immigration laws often have predominantly White old folk living alongside highly diverse children – like Arizona, where 83% of the over-65s are White, and 58% of the children are non-White."

The Economist, in other words, depicts the large-scale social and cultural changes facing the United States as already underway and impossible to stop. The best choice, it suggests, is for all Americans to get on board.

 “America’s white majority is turning into a minority, and tens of millions of American-born Hispanics will play a big part in that. The hope is that Latinos will enter, enrich and rejuvenate the American mainstream. Whatever happens, the mainstream itself will look very different. Americans must make this experiment succeed.”

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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economy, hispanics, immigration, latinos

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