PRB Discuss Online: How Are Latino Children Doing in the United States?

(June 2010) Over the past 20 years, the number of Latino children under age 18 living in the United States has doubled, making them one of the fastest-growing segments of the national population. Today’s 16 million Latino children and youth—92 percent of whom are U.S. citizens—represent a crucial segment of the United States’ future workers, taxpayers, parents, citizens, voters, and leaders. How are Latino children faring relative to other racial/ethnic groups? How do their circumstances differ by generational status, citizenship, family structure, education, and English language ability? How do states differ in the characteristics and well-being of Latino youth? And what are the implications for policymakers trying to improve the lives of Latino children and families? Join, as they answer your questions on this important issue.

During a PRB Discuss Online, Patricia Foxen, associate director of research at the National Council of La Raza, and Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs, Population Reference Bureau, answered participants’ questions about the well-being of Latino youth.

Thank you all for your questions and comments. Patricia and Mark responded to as many questions as possible during the live session. If you have additional comments, send them to citing the title of the session: How Are Latino Children Doing in the United States?

For more information, you can link to the report:

National Council of La Raza and Population Reference Bureau, America’s Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends

June 15, 2010 1 PM EST

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Emeka Nwosu, Nigeria: What are the differences between latino kids and [African American] kids. Is there a relationship between the genetic make-up of latinos to make them live longer than [African Americans].
Mark Mather: There are several factors that may contribute to the “Latino Paradox” or the fact the Latinos are generally healthier than would be expected given their average levels of education and income. These factors include the selective migration of relatively healthy immigrants to the United States, health-enhancing behaviors of the Latino population (e.g., better diet and lower rates of smoking, drinking)—especially among recent immigrants, and tight-knit Latino communities that contribute to higher levels of “social capital.” This pattern is also evident among African Americans: Mortality levels are lower among black immigrants to the United States compared with U.S.-born African Americans. Genetic factors may also play a role in these differences but I’m not familiar with that research.

olufemi: What are the likely effects of migration on family lifestyle…?
Mark Mather: In general, immigrants coming to the United States can improve their economic well-being relative to their economic status in their home countries. This means they can attain higher standards of living and create better lives for their children. However, the economic mobility of Latino families varies widely depending on the knowledge and skills that they bring to the United States, and the training and resources available to them once they arrive here. Those with low levels of education and few skills face the biggest challenges, especially given the current problems in the U.S. labor market.

Robert Prentiss: It has been estimated that the homeless children population in the U.S. will reach 500,000 this year. My own research would indicate that in some states like California, 40% will be Latino children. Do you have any information on this sub-population?
Mark Mather: I don’t have any information about this but it will be interesting to see if the 2010 Census can shine any light on this issue. The Census is not designed to provide a complete count of the homeless population but does enumerate people staying in emergency shelters. Here is a report they issued based on the 2000 Census results:  

Christine Brenner: How does living in a family or household with mixed immigration status affect Latino children’s health and educational outcomes?
Patricia Foxen: Latino citizen children in mixed-status families are much more likely to be uninsured than Latino children in all-citizen families. Their parents are working, but they are less likely to be offered health coverage through their jobs, which is the primary way that most Americans are able to access health insurance. Public health coverage programs, like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), are crucial to these families—but there is often fear and confusion about these programs that prevent enrollment. Parents may not be aware that their own immigration status does not affect their citizen child’s eligibility. Additionally, parents may fear that by applying on behalf of their eligible children, they will incur unintended immigration consequences for themselves or other immigrant members of the family. Although most children in mixed-status families are US citizens, NCLR’s research has shown that there are mixed-status families where parents have some noncitizen children who were born outside the U.S. and some who are U.S. citizens. In these cases, parents report that children within the same family have differing access to health coverage, and therefore very different health care access. In general then, mixed-status families are more likely to have difficulty accessing affordable health care for their children—particularly the preventive monitoring of growth and development that is important to pediatric care. Living in mixed status families can also affect educational outcomes for children and contribute to the achievement gap. In particular, Latino children in these families (despite being US citizens) are less likely to be enrolled in early childhood education programs, often again because parents fear revealing their documentation status. These children are set back early on in their education, have difficulty catching up later in their education and are thus less ready for success than their peers.

Mary Kent: Patricia and Mark, What do you think are the most important challenges facing U.S. Latino children? What is the best way to help them be successful adults?
Mark Mather: Education is the key to success and too many Latino children are falling behind in school. Parents (especially moms) play a critical role in children’s education. But many Latino parents are recent immigrants who arrived in the United States with limited education and difficulty speaking English. This is a big challenge for policymakers but one proven way to improve future educational outcomes is by promoting school readiness. Addressing children’s educational needs at an early age—even before kindergarten—helps put them on the right path to future success in school and the workforce.

Genie Zavaleta: Undocumented Latino children live in fear. Children of undocumented parents live in fear andanxiety. HOW CAN WE GET CONGRESS TO PASS THE DREAM ACT NOW? It protects undocumented children from age 12 from deportation. It is a start that we can get now.
Patricia Foxen: Two excellent reports on the state of fear and instability among children of undocumented parents are the following: The Urban Institute’s “Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement”: And NCLR/Urban Institute’s “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children”: NCLR has also long been advocating for the DREAM Act, which is legislation that would provide a pathway to lawful immigration status for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Currently, there are 39 Senators and 120 House of Representative co-sponsors for the DREAM Act. A broad range of support has also come from the university sector, immigrant rights groups, and child advocates. To learn more about the DREAM act and/or join our action network to pressure Congress into passing this legislation, please go to The National Immigration Law Center has more detailed information about the DREAM Act:  

Emily Love: Thank you for hosting this discussion. I work with late arrival Latino youth (Robert—several are considered homeless because they have either come to the US on their own and live alone or live with extended family in the US). I am curious about your knowledge of any current research on this population related to their education/life trajectories and about any trends in whether and how long they stay in the US. Who are the researchers focusing on this population?
Patricia Foxen: An excellent and recent article on newcomer immigrant teenagers (including Latinos) entitled “Academic Trajectories of Newcomer Immigrant Youth” can be found through the following link: Drs. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Carola Suarez-Orozco, directors of NYU’s Immigrant Studies Department, are leading experts on the trajectories of Latino youth, including newcomer youth. Their work can be found here:  

Jose E. Vega: What is the ethnic composition of these Latino children? Are the life chances of children in these groups doing in comparison to each other? What are the major policy issues that need to be addressed for this segment of the Latino population in the U.S.?

Patricia Foxen: As our report emphasizes, we need a comprehensive approach toward Latino child and youth policy; outcomes in different areas (health, education, etc) all impact one another in significant ways (e.g. poverty affects health, education affects juvenile justice indicators). Nonetheless, targeted approaches in each area are critical. Clearly implementing health care reform in a way that improves access to insurance coverage for Latino children will be crucial; improving access to early education programs and investing in drop-out prevention programs for teenagers are critical to improving educational outcomes and increasing the chances of Latino college enrolment and graduation. Programs that help the parents of Latino children also clearly impact the well-being of their children. Passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, expanding access to employer-based health coverage, and providing job training and other work support for Latino parents will go a long way toward improving the odds for Latino children.
Mark Mather: Mexican Americans make up the largest group but there are also large numbers of Latino children with family origins in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, and other areas. Latinos in the United States are an extremely diverse group and growing even more diverse with rising rates of racial/ethnic intermarriage. In our report, rather than focusing on ethnic origins, we looked at differences in children’s well-being by generational status. In general, first- and second-generation Latino children have higher poverty rates and worse educational outcomes compared with those whose families have lived in the U.S. for several generations. However, longer-term U.S. residents fared worse on some indicators, including the proportion of single-parent families and obesity.

Realista Rodriguez: What is the school drop out rate of our Latino students? What are some of the reasons for them dropping out?
Patricia Foxen: The measurement of drop-out rates is complicated. There are two standard measures: the event drop-out rate, which measures the number of drop outs in a single year (and is therefore not cumulative), which has been quite low (around 10%); and the status drop-out rate, which measures children aged 11-24 who are not in school (and is cumulative). The status drop-out rate includes late coming immigrant youth who have never gone to school in the US, and this rate has stayed steadily around 25%-30% over the past years for Latinos. A preferred indicator (used in our report) is the graduation rate, because it is a more truthful indicator of children’s ability to get through the school system and schools’ ability to retain kids. Some of the main reasons for Latino drop out include: undocumented status, which leads children to feel that school is a dead end; as well as being enrolled below grade level, feeling unchallenged, and feeling disconnected to the curriculum.

Robert Prentiss: To Emily Love, I have no information except for homeless children (aged 0-17)in California. I think you will find “Worst Case Housing Needs 2007” just released by HUD informative. It is important to note that the report is based on data from 2007, before the full repercussions of the U.S. mortgage market crisis were felt across the broader economy. Note demographic findings on Race and Ethnicity. Worst case needs were found across racial and ethnic groups. There were 2.92 million non-Hispanic white households, 1.35 million non-Hispanic black households, and 1.23 million Hispanic households with worst case housing needs. Households have worst case housing needs if they: are renters with very low-incomes; do not currently have housing assistance; and either have a severe rent burden and/ or live in severely inadequate housing. Severe rent burden means a family is paying more than one-half their income for rent.1 Severely inadequate housing includes a variety of serious physical problems related to heating, plumbing, electric, or maintenance. Homeless persons and homeowners are not included in estimates of worst case needs in this and earlier reports because the American Housing Survey counts only persons living in housing units. The incidence of worst case needs among non-Hispanic whites who are very low-income renters was 39.0 percent in 2007, compared with 33.3 percent for non-Hispanic black households, and 37.4 percent for Hispanic households. It is important to note that the report is based on data from 2007, before the full repercussions of the U.S. mortgage market crisis were felt across the broader economy. Hope this is helpful.
Mark Mather: Hi Robert, thanks for the information. I suspect that you are correct about conditions getting worse since the release of this report, given the current state of California’s economy.

Hilary Andersen: With the changing landscape of immigrant populations in the United States, where are the highest risk pockets for Latino children located? Where is [a lack of adequate] education highest concentrated and what educational needs do these children have?
Mark Mather: In general, Latino children face the biggest economic/educational/language barriers in the Southeastern United States, where most of the Latino children are either first- or second-generation immigrants.This is not to say that Latino children do not face challenges in other parts of the country. But it’s the Southeast (e.g., South Carolina) that has the highest concentrations of new immigrants with limited English ability and low levels of education. Children in the Southeast are also much more more likely to live in linguistically isolated households (no adults in the household speaks English well), which means parents may have trouble interacting with the school system or helping kids with their homework.
Patricia Foxen: While Latino kids are at highest risk of poverty and lingusitic isolation in new gateway states of the South East (where the majority are children of immigrants), it’s important to remember that some indicators of well-being, such as obesity and teen pregancy, get worse with acculturation (that is, they get higher between the second and third generation). Some states with more long-standing Latino populations are therefore worse off for some indicators than states with newly arrived Latino populations.

Gregory Kington: Thank you. Any discussion of how Latino children are doing in the US must refer on some level to what they came from. What is the educational situation for most children in Mexico and is the US. supporting that actvity in any way?
Mark Mather: This is true for many Latino adults but the large majority of Latino children (9 in 10) were born in the United States.

Gloria Sanchez: What are the mejor barriers to enroll Latino kids in Medicaid/CHIP?
Patricia Foxen: Our NCLR report “A Burden No Child Should Bear: How the Health Coverage System is Failing Latino Children” reports in detail on this issue. Many Latino children living in low-income families are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but they do face barriers to enrollment. One factor, like we discussed a moment ago, is the fear and confusion for eligible children living in immigrant families. Parents may either confuse their own ineligibility for public coverage programs with that of their children’s. Additionally, in a climate that is particularly charged around the immigration debate, parents may be apprehensive about applying on behalf of their children because they fear unintended immigration consequences for their family. Another factor is a lack of language access. Although federal laws require language assistance for these programs, enrollment materials and information are often available only in English. This can be a barrier not only for Latino parents who are not proficient in English, but also for Latino parents who feel comfortable conversing in English but who would prefer to have materials available in Spanish or other language. NCLR’s own research has shown that the presence of a facilitator can be important to outreach efforts, including the point in the child’s life that he or she is enrolled in a coverage program. Bicultural and bilingual workers, particularly community health workers, have been shown to be incredibly effective in this arena. One study published in Pediatrics found that community-based, bicultural and bilingual workers were significantly more likely than traditional caseworkers to successfully enroll Latino children in Boston. (That study is called “A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effectiveness of Community-Based Case Management in Insuring Uninsured Latino Children.”) Finally, there is some evidence that there may be some instances of discriminatory practices when Latino parents seek information about enrollment in these programs. In 2005, an NCLR study found that 80% [of] the Spanish-dominant Latinos in a controlled research study experienced at least one discriminatory practice, including inappropriate questions not related to program eligibility, compared to White non-Latinos. This type of treatment may dissuade some Latino parents from enrolling their children in programs for which they are eligible.

Kathy Valenzuela: What types of parent engagement strategies do you find most effective for promoting school readiness?
Patricia Foxen: Head Start has very good parental engagement strategies. First, it is a requirement of the program that parents get involved and programs must have parent councils. Even Start is also successful. They are successful examples because (1) they tend to use the parents’ native language in conducting outreach and ongoing communication, (2) in the case of Head Start, it is upfront about what is expected of parents, and (3) in the case of Even Start, they provide benefits to parents, as well as kids, i.e. Even Start provides literacy development for kids and parents, including ESL. So, language access, clear expectations, and meeting the needs of parents as well as kids are important elements.

Mark Mather: Hi Kathy, I haven’t studied this topic but you might find some information about this on the U.S. Department of Education’s website:  

Kathleen Bedoya: Where in the US is the greatest rate of teen pregnancy among Latinas seen? What do you believe is the main cause for the high rate of teen pregnancy? What do you think can be done to address this issue?
Mark Mather: Teen pregnancy rates are highest in several Southeastern United States, including Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Several factors have been linked to higher teen pregnancy rates including high poverty rates, lack of knowledge about contraception and family planning, and peer pressure. Providing better information about effective contraceptive use is one of the most effective ways to reduce unintended pregnancies and the health problems that can be associated with teen pregnancy.

Kathleen Bedoya: Why is it that issues such as obesity and teen pregnancy get worse with acculturation? So is a 3rd generation Latina more likely to get pregnant as a teen than a recent arrival? How many of these girls choose to terminate their pregnancies rather than have the baby?
Patricia Foxen: The increase in obesity through time for Latino children is not totally understood. Diet, exercise, and socioeconomic status are known to be the primary causes for heightened obesity rates after the first generation. There have been studies showing that more acculturated Latinos have much more fat in their diets and less fiber, fruit and vegetables. Food insecurity and the consumption of undesirable food is related to low socioeconomic status, and generational or inherited poverty continues to be a significant problem among second and third geneartion Latinos, as our report states. In addition, a lack of exercise reinforces obesity problems as acculturation breeds a more stagnant life style.

William Kandel: There is a general assumption in demographic circles that Latino fertility rates are substantially higher than those of all other major racial and ethnic groups. Yet the TFRs in Latin America and Mexico seem to have been consistently declining and according to the PRB are actually lower than those here. Do you think Hispanic fertility rates that are typically used in the U.S. are accurate?
Mark Mather: Hi William, fertility statistics for Mexico are not of the highest quality but it’s true that Mexico’s total fertility rate has been declining and is below that of Latinos in the United States. There was some recent research presented at the PAA [Population Association of America] meetings (I can’t remember the author) suggesting that the migration of young Mexican men to the United States may be playing a role by delaying the age of first marriage and thereby suppressing Mexico’s fertility rates.