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September 1999, Volume 6, Number 9

Education, Welfare, Perspective

Education. The number of K-12 pupils in US schools is expected to be a record 53 million in Fall 1999, according to the Department of Education's report, "The Baby Boom Echo: No End in Sight." In 1997, about 16 percent of the school-age population had immigrant mothers. College enrollment is also projected to be a record 15 million in Fall 1999. For more information: />
A new report, "Latinos and Economic Development in California," calculated that Latinos, who comprised 28 percent of California workers in 1998, received only 19 percent of earnings in the state. In 1998, 45 percent of Latinos in the California labor force did not complete high school; only eight percent had a college degree. The report concluded that if they had the same level of education as the general population, Latino earnings would increase by $28 billion. Latinos with a high school diploma earned an average $5,000 more than Latinos without a diploma. A bachelor's degree added another $11,000 over high school-only Latino earnings.

The report, based on the 1998 March Current Population Survey (CPS), recommends that more be done to keep Latino children in school and to encourage adult Latinos to participate in adult education programs.

Census studies show that one in four immigrant youths between 15 and 17 are not attending school.

Welfare. The number of US residents receiving cash welfare payments fell from 14 million in 1993 to seven million in 1999. President Clinton told the Welfare-to-Work Partnership in August 3, 1999 that 35 percent of adult welfare recipients were working in 1998 or actively preparing themselves for work. Most of the state and local governments implementing welfare reform are pursuing a work-first ABC strategy, encouraging recipients to get A job, then a Better job, and then a Career.

However, studies of ex-recipients in the labor market find that many do not earn more then when they were on welfare, and their total income may actually decline because many ex-recipients do not receive health insurance and other benefits that they received as welfare recipients. An Urban Institute study of ex-recipients found that, in 1997, they averaged $6.60 an hour, 75 percent did not receive health benefits from their employers, and 25 percent were working night shifts. With work not paying more than welfare, it was perhaps not surprising that one third of the recipients who left welfare in 1995 were back on the rolls in 1997.

A study by Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that while welfare caseloads have been cut in half since 1994, many families who leave the rolls are not making up lost welfare benefits with wages. The poorest 20 percent of families who left welfare netted an average of $577 a year less; their incomes fell to $8,040 annually. For the poorest 10 percent, the situation was worse. Their incomes dropped by an average of $814 a year.

Many of these families were still eligible for food stamps, which may have made up some of the difference. In 1995, 88 percent of poor children benefited from food stamps; in 1998, the number had fallen to 70 percent.

Perspective. A three-part series for the San Diego Union-Tribune concluded that, although many recent immigrants are moving up the US job ladder, fulfilling the dream of success and freedom in the US, large numbers are also trapped in substandard jobs and housing, and are sending their children to schools that do not promise upward mobility. "America's Immigration Dilemma" concluded that excessive legal immigration is increasing America's underclass. One subhead, "Crowding Out Hope," was used to argue in an editorial accompanying the series that the US should decrease legal immigration, facilitating the reunification of nuclear family members and highly skilled immigrants and denying admission to more distant relatives and unskilled immigrants.

The series concludes that there is a "disconnect" between immigration and integration policies, and outlines two options to deal with the growing immigrant underclass: a massive new government investment in schools, housing and other services to improve the chances that newcomers and their children will succeed in the US, or reductions in immigration so that resources more closely match needs. It suggests that Congress do social impact analyses before making changes to immigration flows that affect US cities and regions. A conference on the policy implications of the series is planned for 2000:. For more information: />
One reason many immigrants get trapped in the underclass, according to the series, is that immigration is a federal policy while integration has been a state and local responsibility. For example, the immigrants, their relatives and employers, and state and local governments are all responsible for ensuring that newcomers succeed in the US. Despite assurances to the contrary, the 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act increased the number of needy legal immigrants entering the US, but did not provide state and local governments with funds for more schools, affordable housing and public health. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) asserted that the 1965 amendments would "not make any substantial increase in the number of immigrants who can enter each year."

Before 1965, legal immigration averaged 300,000 a year and 90 percent of the immigrants were from Europe. Today, legal immigration is 800,000 to 900,000 a year and 80 percent of immigrants are from Latin America and Asia.

The current "fourth wave" of immigration is expected to bring more newcomers to the US than the so-called "Great Third Wave" between 1880 and 1914. Third-wave immigrants from southern and eastern Europe mostly settled in the major cities of the northeast and Midwest, and their integration was expedited by the rapid growth of factories in the 1920s as well as strong union, church, school and other integrating institutions that felt a responsibility to integrate or "Americanize" the newcomers.

The series describes the competition between newly arrived immigrants, and between newcomers and settled immigrants for jobs, housing and social services. Since much of this competition occurs in immigrant communities, it is not readily visible to most Americans.

Several articles focused on California. Between 1989 and 1996, some 1. 6 million legal immigrants made California their intended destination. Joined by unauthorized migrants and immigrants who moved within the US to California, the state in 1999 has 8.5 million foreign-born residents--one in four Californians is an immigrant. About 40 percent of the residents of the city of Los Angeles are immigrants, a higher percentage than in New York City at the height of third-wave immigration.

Many of the immigrants have little education--32 percent of the adult immigrants do not have a high-school diploma, compared to six percent of US-born adults. In a profile of immigrants in Huron, it was emphasized that many immigrants with little education may have improved their circumstances compared to life at home, but they have below-poverty level incomes in the US. Many Mexican migrants employed seasonally in California agriculture earn $4,000 to $8,000 a year; the average income in Mexico is about $4,000 a year, but most of the migrants in the US do not earn the average Mexican income.

However, once in the US, migrants with little education face very short job ladders--it is difficult to move up from seasonal farm worker to a year-round job offering close to average US earnings, about $26,000 a year.

Many migrants move to the US to improve conditions for their children. However, the series highlighted the fact that about one-third of Hispanics drop out of high school, and that 25 percent of immigrant youth between 15 and 17 are not attending schools in the US. Huron has no high school and many immigrant children go to work rather than travel 22 miles to the nearest high school in Coalinga. In Little Village and Pilsen, parts of Chicago with large numbers of Mexican immigrants, the high school dropout rate is 60 percent. Parents who work long hours in US factories do not push their children to succeed in school and teens who see their future as either gangs or minimum wage jobs in the factories that also employ their parents often choose gangs--summarized as: "Overcrowded schools. Violent neighborhoods. Dead-end jobs."

The series ends by contrasting the views of researchers who believe that, as with the Third Wave, most of today's newcomers and their children will succeed in fulfilling the American dream, compared to those who argue that today's fourth immigration wave will change the US, reinforcing inequality and poverty at a time when voters seem increasingly reluctant to pay for programs to reduce poverty.

Susan Martin, who was the director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, emphasized that the US has "a responsibility toward those we've already admitted. We need to make sure we make the investment in English language training and skills training to be able to help them move up the ladder." Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute says that Americans should remember that immigrants who voluntarily come to the US accept low wages because they are improvement over life at home: "$6 an hour is very hard to live on. But clearly there's been an improvement in the lives of these immigrants."

Cecilia Muñoz, of the National Council of La Raza, wants more services for immigrants, especially English-language classes: "It would make sense, particularly in a society that professes to be worried about immigrants' acquisition of English, to be investing a little bit in making sure that the immigrants who want to learn English can actually do it." Roy Beck, author of "The Case Against Immigration," argues that immigration should be restricted to 250,000 a year to protect US workers.

Dori Meinert and Marcus Stern, "Future at Risk," San Diego Union-Tribune, August 24, 1999. Michael Weinstein, "Without training, welfare overhaul may falter," New York Times, August 26, 1999. Kathy Sawyer, "Female-headed Households' Gains Erode as Welfare Reform Starts, Study Says," Washington Post, August 22, 1999. Marcus Stern, "1965's act's effect reverberates to this day," San Diego Union Tribune, August 22, 1999. Robert Pear, "White House Releases Glowing Data on Welfare," New York Times, August 1, 1999. Lopez, Elias, Enrique Ramirez, and Refugio I. Rochin. 1999. Latinos and Economic Development in California. Sacramento. California Research Bureau. CRB-99-008.