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March 2002, Volume 9, Number 3

Foreign-Born, Poverty, Education

Foreign-born. The March 2000 Current Population Survey found that 56 million US residents, 20 percent of all US residents, were born abroad or are the children of immigrants. In 1910, 35 percent of US residents were born abroad or were the children of immigrants. The "foreign stock" included 28 million persons born abroad, 15 million native-born residents with two foreign-born parents, and 13 million residents of mixed US- and foreign-born parentage

About 25 percent of US immigrants were born in Mexico, the highest share since the 30 percent share born in Germany was counted in 1890. Immigrants are concentrated in large cities--the metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago have 50 percent of the foreign-born population and 21 percent of the total US population.

Foreign-born residents are about as likely as native-born Americans to be in the US labor force, but they earned less and were less likely to have health insurance.

The CPS found that 67 percent of immigrants age 25 and older had completed high school in 2000, compared with 87 percent of native-born Americans 25 and older- 84 percent of Asian immigrants and 34 percent of Mexican immigrants finished high school. The median income of households with foreign-born heads was $36,048, compared to $41,000 for households with a native-born head, $29,338 for households with a head from Latin America, and $51,363 from Asia.

The foreign-born homeownership rate was 49 percent, compared with 67 percent for all US residents.

Some 37 percent of foreign-born residents were naturalized citizens in 2000, compared with 35 percent in 1997; in 1970, 64 percent of foreign-born residents were naturalized. Between 1997 and 2000, the percentage of Mexican-born US residents who were US citizens rose from 15 to 20 percent. Dual citizenship is spreading, with at least 93 countries now recognizing it. Naturalized US citizens formally renounce their other citizenship, but their countries of origin often still claim them as citizens.

Iowa in March 2002 was poised to become the 27th state with an official "English language law" on the books. The Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act does not prevent anyone from speaking languages other than English, but it does require the state government to conduct its business in English only.

Many US workers without high school diplomas are immigrants. Across the country, 37 percent of non-US citizens in metro areas do not have a high-school diploma. In Los Angeles, however, 53 percent of non-US citizens do not have high-school diplomas. About 10 percent of adults in the Los Angeles metro area have six years of schooling or less, and 25 percent have not completed high school. From 1983 to 1999, the number of workers lacking a high school diploma decreased by 20 percent nationwide, but increased by 50 percent in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.

The Washington Post on February 24, 2002 reported that Black US residents are increasingly diverse, with immigrants from the West Indies and Africa having very different US experiences and outcomes than US-born Blacks. In Miami, the West Indian population - which is now 48 percent of the area's black community-- is expected to surpass the native-born African-American population by 2010. A Haitian-American who became the first elected black mayor of North Miami was attacked by as an interloper by some US-born Blacks. In New York City, one-third of Blacks were born abroad. The recent contest between a Jamaican-American and a US-born black American for a Congressional seat was an unusually bitter electoral battle.

Marvin Dunn, chairman of the psychology department at Florida International University in Miami, says: "Whether you talk to Haitians, Bahamians, Jamaicans or Africans about African-Americans, you hear the same things: They are violent, they don't respect their elders, they have no sense of family, they don't want to work, they depend on welfare. When you talk to African-Americans about the immigrants, you hear: They're here to take our jobs. They'll work for nothing. They're cliquish. They smell. They eat dogs. They think they're better than us."

Poverty. The US poverty lines for 2002 were announced. They are $8,860 for one person and $15,020 for a family of three. Those sponsoring immigrants must earn 125 percent of the poverty line for the immigrants and the relatives being sponsored, so that a US couple with two children who are sponsoring the admission of their parents need an income of at least $30,325, which is 125 percent of the $24,260 poverty line for six.

The poverty line, first created and defined by the US government in 1965, is three times the cost of the USDA's "economy food plan" (the cheapest nutritionally adequate menu), adjusted for family size and updated every year for inflation. In 1973, 11.3 percent of US residents lived in households with incomes below the poverty line; in 2000, it was 11.1 percent. Means-tested welfare spending tripled between 1973 and 1998 -- rising from $136 billion to $392 billion (in constant 1998 dollars).

Welfare reform must be reauthorized before October 1, 2002, and the National Governors Association (NGA) in February 2002 urged that states be allowed to provide federal cash assistance to newly arrived legal immigrants -- the main group that became largely ineligible for welfare assistance under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Current Population Survey data suggest that, between 1994 and 1999, there was a "substantial" decline in legal immigrant participation in the major benefit programs-a 60 percent decline in TANF (cash assistance), a 48 percent decline in Food Stamps, a 32 percent decline in Supplemental Security Income, and a 15 percent decline in Medicaid.

Under welfare reform, the federal government provides states with a $16.5 billion federal "block grant." President Bush promised to continue the block grant at that level, said that a new welfare program should raise the percentage of cash recipients who work from 30 to 70 percent, and raise the hours they work from 30 to 40 a week. However, activities such as education, training or drug rehabilitation could be considered "work" for up to three-months during any 24-month period, and 16 of the 40 hours a week on an ongoing basis.

Bush asked Congress to restore the eligibility of legal immigrants for Food Stamps, coupons that are distributed to poor residents that can be used only to purchase food. However, immigrants who arrived after August 22, 1996 are generally not eligible for temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-cash payments-for their first five years in the US so "that welfare policy neither attracts non-citizens to the US to take advantage of welfare nor induces welfare dependency among non-citizens who do receive welfare benefits."

The federal government pays 85 percent of the cost of the children's health insurance program, or CHIP, which provides health benefits to children in working-poor families who do not qualify for Medicaid, which serves poor US residents. Some 4.6 children were enrolled in 2001.

Education. The Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" education plan asked school districts to improve the education of both native English speakers and the children of immigrants through serious concentration on math and reading skills. Proposition 227, approved in 1998, seems to mandate testing in English in California, but English-language testing is opposed by those who favor bilingual education: "A test in English is a test of English. Regardless of the stated purpose of the assessment, for English learners, any test in English is a measure of English proficiency."

Schools are an issue in Santa Ana, a California city of 320,000 that is 76 percent Latino, up from 44 percent Hispanic in 1980. Spanish is spoken by 74 percent of Santa Ana's residents, with 15 percent speaking no English. The public schools are well over 90 percent Latino, with 70 percent of the students living below the poverty line. Hispanics are less than half of the city's registered voters. The city council is mostly white, while the elected school board is mostly Hispanic, and they clashed over the use of a nine-acre site in a mostly white area of the city. The City Council approved the construction of luxury homes on the site, which the school board wanted to take over through eminent domain for a school.

Harry Pachon, the president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, says that "The school board is often the first rung up the political ladder for the immigrant communities."

A state judge ruled that the City University of New York may charge about 2,500 unauthorized foreigners higher out-of-state tuition at its 11 four-year schools, six community colleges, two professional schools and one graduate center. CUNY's tuition per semester is $1,600 for in-state residents and $3,400 for out-of-state students at the senior colleges. Between 1989 and 1996, CUNY did not charge unauthorized aliens higher out of state tuition.

New York City had 2.2 million Latinos in 2000, up from 1.7 million in 1990. The two largest groups were from Puerto Rico, 830,000 and the Dominican Republic, 579,000.

Nancy Cleeland, "L.A. Workers Held Back by Low Education Rate," Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2002.