Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where are the Pakistani Kings (part III)?

In our previous posts we discussed the effect of an individual immigrant's education level in determining their economic and social output. The good news is that poverty and prosperity levels of immigrants and native born Americans alike are virtually identical once we factor in their educational levels. The bad news is that an increasingly large number of immigrants possess educational levels far below the national mean. So, when we look beyond romantic rhetoric and analyze the raw numbers, it becomes clear that we are importing poverty in general and increasing Hispanic poverty in particular, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage. Here are a few statistics that highlight this reality:

According to Robert J. Samuelson, "from 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9 million (24.3 percent) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods."

One important factor that explains how Hispanic poverty could grown during a prolonged economic boom is that the increase in the supply of labor (via high levels of immigration) was concentrated in fields which Hispanic immigrants predominate, such as construction. And if Hispanic poverty rose during an economic boom, I dread to think what this sharp economic downturn will mean for Latinos.

Most troubling is the fact that this phenomena is most strongly felt among children. And among the children of Hispanic immigrants the poverty rate is 32.9%, which is nearly 3 times the national average. The end result is that although children in first-generation His­panic immigrant families comprised 11.0 percent of all children in the U.S., they were 20.4 percent of all poor chil­dren. And drop out rates for Hispanics are double the national average.

These statistics are troubling for progressives and conservatives alike, but where they diverge is their interpretation of and solutions to the growing socio-economic gap between European and Asian Americans on one hand and Hispanics and African Americans on the other hand. Progressives narratives focus on on external factors, such as: racism, discrimination and "economic injustice" as the causes of this gap. So, they are likely to look at the growing level of Latino poverty as an avoidable that can be remedied through government intervention.

On the other hand, conservatives are far more likely to focus on internal factors, such as the level of human capital and a cultural affinity (or lack of) towards education and social mobility. So, most conservatives would view the surge in Hispanic poverty as the predictable outcome of immigration policies that paid little heed to the educational level of immigrants.

Based on their world view, most progressives look at this socio-economic gap as an opportunity to expand the size and scope of government. To bridge the socio-economic gap, numerous programs have been implemented from: educational programs specifically geared towards raising academic performance of (non-Asian) minorities, affirmative action and expanded health and housing entitlements. On an even broader level, the gap affirms the needs of progressives to implement "redistributive justice" via increased government intervention in economic and social spheres of American life.

To this, most conservatives affirm the need to focus on the facts on the ground. In other words, it would be wonderful if progressive programs could remedy troubling socio-economic gaps, but realism dictates that we must base our immigration policies on the assumption that they won't. Policies must be based on the assumption that given our continued shift towards an economy that offers decreasing returns for low skilled workers, the socio-economic output of uneducated immigrants and their descendants will not significantly improve. Accordingly, the only logical response to the growth in Hispanic poverty is to shift our immigration policies away from the importation of low skill labor, towards one that is focused on importing highly skilled and highly educated workers, regardless of race.

In the mind of many, such talk would come dangerously close to violating the three great progressives commandments: thou shall not discriminate, thou shall not disparage diversity and thou shall not blame blame the victims. Unfortunately, noble intentions do not address social and economic ills and many self proclaimed "pro-immigrants" pursue policies that have and will continue to increase poverty among immigrants and their descendants.

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