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Hispanic men: divergent paths in the U.S. labor market.


Hispanics are defined by the Census Bureau as individuals whose own origin or ancestral origin is a Spanish-speaking country. The unifying element among the numerous nationalities is purely linguistic. Hispanics are a rapidly growing component of the population and labor force of the United States. They were 4.5 percent of the population in 1970 and 6.4 percent by 1980. This growth is due in part to a high rate of natural increase. Hispanics tend to have higher fertility rates than other whites, even when variables (such as income, schooling, and marital status) are the same. More important, however, is the high proportion of Hispanics among immigrants to the United States. Hispanics now account for about 30 percent of the annual total of about 600,000 legal immigrants. An untold number of additional Hispanics have settled illegally in the United States. About 2-1/4 million Hispanics obtained legal status under the two major amnesty provisions of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

The 1980 Census of Population is the most recent data that can be used to study Hispanics in the labor market by type of Hispanic origin and place of birth. This census indicated that among Hispanic men ages 25 to 64 in the labor force, 59 percent were of Mexican origin, 7 percent of Cuban origin, 11 percent of Puerto Rican origin, and 23 percent of other Spanish speaking origin. (See table 1.) This article shows that by combining distinct ethnic groups under one Hispanic rubric, much important insight is lost.

Hispanic immigrants

Among Hispanic men responding to the 1980 census, half were born in the 50 States or the District of Columbia, and 50 percent were born in a foreign country or a U.S. territory (such as Puerto Rico). The proportions vary substantially among the Hispanic groups, reflecting sharp differences in migration histories.

The foreign born accounted for only 38 percent of those of Mexican origin in 1980. The small community of Mexicans (about 50,000) who remained in Texas and the Southwest after these areas were annexed by the United States has been augmented by periodic influxes of Mexican migrants. The Mexican Civil War of 1910 and the periods of tight labor markets in the United States (for example, World War 1, the 1920's, and World War 11) saw increased Mexican migration. The net flow of Mexican nationals was toward Mexico during the Great Depression. For the past two decades, there has been increasing migration of legal and illegal aliens from Mexico. In fiscal year 1987, for example, more than 72,000 Mexican nationals became permanent resident aliens under regular U.S. immigration law.

The 1980 census data indicate that, on average, men born in Mexico have little formal education, 7.5 years of schooling compared to the 11.6 years for white foreignborn men. (See table 1.) Among those who migrated between 1975 and 1980, the average educational level is even lower, less than 7 years of schooling. This suggests that the relative skill level of Mexican migrants may be declining. '

In summary, Mexican migration is best characterized as international migration (either legal or illegal), motivated by economic factors. It is composed disproportionately of low-skilled workers, who receive low income and reside primarily in urban and rural areas of the Southwest from Texas to California. There is substantial to and fro migration.

Of men of Cuban origin, more than 90 percent were born in Cuba. Although Cuba had close commercial and other ties to the United States, there was little migration to the U.S. mainland during the 60 years following Cuban independence in 1898. Castro's coming to power in January 1959 changed the situation and sparked massive waves of primarily middle-class migration. The size and timing of these waves were determined primarily by political relations between the United States and Cuba, rather than by economic forces. Cuban-born men averaged 11.8 years of schooling in 1980, about the same as the average for all white immigrants. (See table 1.)

Cuban migration since 1959 may be characterized as international migration, with many political refugees and members of the middle class. These migrants have settled mainly in tbe urban areas of south Florida and there is virtually no return migration.

Nearly 80 percent of the adult male Puerto Ricans residing on the U.S. mainland in 1980 were born in Puerto Rico. The island became a territory of the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War, and now has "commonwealth" status. Its residents became U.S. citizens through legislation enacted in 1917. Because of their citizenship, Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. mainland is internal migration -there are no legal barriers, quotas, or visa requirements. Puerto Rican migration was small until the 1950's when it increased sharply to the major urban areas in the Northeast, primarily the New York metropolitan area. The net migration rate declined in the 1970's and is now virtually zero. Return migration is easiest for tbe Puerto Ricans, and they appear to experience the highest circular migration rate among Hispanic migrants. The Puerto Rican migrants have a relatively low level of educational attainment. Their average level of schooling in the 1980 census was 9.9 years. (See table 1.)

Several factors are apparently responsible for the different patterns of migration from Puerto Rico and Mexico to the States between the 1970 and 1980 censuses. The slower economic growth in the Northeast than in the Southwest is partly responsible. In addition, the Mexican economy did worse than that of Puerto Rico, especially after the passing of the Mexican "oil bonanza" in the 1970's. The extension to the island of some mainland income transfer programs (such as food stamps in 1973) also altered relative incentives to migrate.

Puerto Rican migration is best characterized as an internal, economic, and often cyclical migration of lowskilled workers. Puerto Rican migrants have a higher rate of to and fro return migration, generally receive low income, and live mainly in the New York metropolitan area.

The historical and institutional factors that have influenced the demographic and economic characteristics of Mexicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans are responsible for the considerable heterogeneity across these groups.' Among the foreign-born Hispanic men in 1980, the Cubans are the oldest (45 years) and the Mexicans, the youngest (37 years). Reflecting their refugee characteristics, the average age at migration of the Cubans (30 years) exceeds that of the Mexicans (24 years). 3Schooling levels also differ sharply. The average of 11.8 years of schooling for the Cubans is about the same as that of all white male migrants (11.6 years), but exceeds that of the Puerto Ricans by 2 years and exceeds the Mexican level by more than 4 years.

The Cuban immigrants exhibit labor market characteristics that are typical of political refugees. Pre-immigration schooling and labor market experience have a smaller impact on earnings in the United States for Cuban immigrants than for other white immigrants or Mexican immigrants. However, U.S. labor market experience has a larger impacton Cuban immigrant earnings and occupational status, and the Cubans appear to be more likely to enroll in school while in the United States.

Mexican immigrants, however, demonstrate characteristics typical of economically motivated, low-skilled migration. Whether legal or illegal aliens, the Mexican migrants do experience increases in skill levels and earnings in the United States. However, despite these improvements, their starting point is so low that they often remain low-skilled, low-income workers relative to white immigrants.

Many of the Mexican migrants are illegal aliens, and the Census Bureau estimates that about 1 million Mexican illegal aliens were enumerated in the 1980 census. In contrast, there are no Puerto Rican illegal aliens because they are citizens by birth. There are few Cuban illegal aliens because they are virtually assured legal status as political refugees or parolees. An exception are the few hundred criminals in the 1980 Mariel boat-lift who are being detained until they can be returned to Cuba.

Mexican illegal aliens tend to have been in the United States a short period of time and like legal Mexican immigrants, tend to have low skill levels and earnings.' Yet they do not appear to be at a significant disadvantage because of their illegal status. Mexican illegal aliens earn about the same as legal Mexican migrants with the same skills and experience in the U.S. labor market.

Hispanics born in the 50 States

The proportion of men born in the United States by Hispanic group varies sharply as a consequence of the different migration histories. Nearly three-fourths of all native-born Hispanic men are of Mexican origin. (See table 1.) An additional 20 percent are of other Spanish-speaking origin, 5 percent of Puerto Rican origin, and only 1 percent of Cuban origin.

Among men born in the United States, Mexican-Americans tend to have a low level of schooling, an average of 10.9 years, in contrast to the 13.1 years for the white native born. (See table 1.) This 2-year difference in schooling, greater rural residence, and fewer years of labor market experience account for some of the 30-percent difference in annual earnings; in 1979, less than $14,200 for the Mexicans and $19,500 in 1980 dollars for the white native born. Yet, even after controlling for their lower measured skill level, fewer annual workweeks, and demographic differences, U.S. -born men of Mexican origin still earn about 18 percent less than other native-born white men. About one-third of this differential is attributable to poorer fluency in English.

Hispanics are more likely to retain their mother tongue than other ethnic groups. In the 1970 census, among second-generation Americans age 14 and over, 95 percent of those of Mexican origin and 84 percent of those of Cuban origin reported a "mother tongue" other than English, in contrast to only 70 percent for non-Hispanic, second-generation Americans from non-English speaking countries.' Among the native-born men in the 1980 census, 79 percent of the Mexicans, 69 percent of the Puerto Ricans, and 49 percent of the Cubans reported a language other than English was currently spoken in the home, in contrast to only 3 percent for non-Hispanic native-born white men.

Foreign language retention in itself need not be a cause of labor market disadvantage. However, to the extent that the mother tongue is used in place of English among those not yet fluent in English, it may impede the development of English language skills, thereby having an important indirect effect on labor market success. Among Mexican origin men born in the United States those who speak Spanish at home and those who have poor English receive 5 and 7 percent lower earnings, respectively, other variables the same. Similar patterns for the effect of language on earnings exist within other Hispanic ethnic groups.

Because of migration histories, adult Cubans and Puerto Ricans born on the mainland are relatively few in number. They tend to be relatively young and many are still making investments in training. The available data suggest, however, that the Cubans are faring far better than the Puerto Ricans. According to the 1980 census, the Puerto Ricans, living predominantly in the urban Northeast, an area with a relatively high number of more highly educated persons, had 12.6 years of schooling on average, in contrast to the 13.3 years for the Cubans, and the 13.1 years for all native-born white men. The discrepancies in earnings, however, are even greater. The mainland-born Puerto Ricans earned an average of $13,700 in 1979, in contrast to the $17,500 for the Cubans. (See table 1.) Still, even the Cuban average annual income was significantly less than the $19,500 for adult white native-born men.

The disparities in the migration and demographic histories, the level of investment in human capital (such as schooling, job training, language skills), and the labor market experiences among men of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other Spanish-speaking origins is enormous. Two of the groups under consideration do share one important, unenviable characteristic. The Mexicans and Puerto Ricans acquire fewer skills on average, than do others and as a consequence have lower levels of occupational attainment and earnings.
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Author:Chiswick, Barry R.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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