Poverty, Inequality, & Mobility among Hispanics

The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has been awarded a new grant on Hispanic poverty and inequality by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The research supported by this grant will be carried out in five new research groups (RGs) that address core limitations in our current understanding of Hispanic poverty, inequality, and mobility. The RGs will address (a) key trends in Hispanic poverty, inequality, and social service use, (b) generational differences in the social standing of Hispanics, (c) the social mobility of Hispanics, (d) the effects of immigration policy on labor market and other outcomes among Hispanic populations, and (e) the health of Hispanics. The new research groups will be led by a team of distinguished scholars (Douglas Massey, David Grusky, Tomás Jiménez, Jody Agius Vallejo, Brian Cadena, Roberto Gonzales, Fernando Riosmena). The RG leaders will be joined by postdoctoral fellows appointed by the Center, scholars who are winners of the Center's grant competitions, undergraduates at grantee institutions, and Stanford University graduate and undergraduate research fellows. The five RGs are described in more detail below.

Monitoring and Explaining Basic Trends (RG Coleaders: Doug Massey, Princeton University; David Grusky, Stanford University)
The "Basic Trends" RG will document key trends in Hispanic poverty, income, earnings, employment, and social service use and begin to explain what is driving those trends. Historically, Hispanics have occupied a middle position in the American socioeconomic order, not as affluent as whites but also not as poor as African Americans. This pattern began to shift in the 1980s and 1990s. Whereas median household income rose for African Americans over that period, it was virtually constant for Hispanics. There are several approaches that might be taken in analyzing such stagnation and other trends in Hispanic poverty and inequality. For example, data from the Mexican Migration Project make it possible to control individual legal status and human capital endowments as well as conditions in the U.S. labor market, such as the rising presence of undocumented migrants and increasing resources devoted to enforcement. It is also possible to use other standard data sources, such as the Current Population Survey (CPS), to track related trends and to test competing accounts of them. Whatever the data sources used, the objective of this RG will be to document key poverty and inequality trends, to begin the task of explaining what underlies them, and to then populate a new website, www.hispanic-trends.org, with the results coming out of this research.

Incorporation of New Generations (RG Leader: Tomás Jiménez, Stanford University)
The U.S. has a long-standing ideology supporting the rapid incorporation of immigrants into the labor market and society. This commitment implies that the second and third generations should have opportunities that were never fully accorded to the first. The purpose of this RG is to ask whether this U.S. ideal is being realized within Hispanic populations even as the situation of first-generation Hispanics may be deteriorating. There are a variety of methodological approaches that may be taken in examining Mexican and Hispanic incorporation. For example, if one wishes to examine generational issues at the national level, the CPS may now be used to study first and second generation-headed households with children, focusing on variables such as family income, educational attainment, living circumstances, and language use. Given the relatively large CPS sample size, tabulations could be completed for traditional and new destinations (a) for Latinos as a whole, (b) for large national origin groups nationwide (Mexicans), and (c) for certain regionally clustered populations (Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans). The simple but important goal of the "New Generations" RG is to redress the surprising shortage of evidence on the extent to which the Hispanic populations are successfully incorporating into the U.S. economy.

Social Mobility (RG Leader: Jody Agius Vallejo, University of Southern California)
There is a surprising shortage of basic evidence on intergenerational social mobility among Latinos. Whereas the "New Generations" RG addresses how the first, second, and third generations are faring in the aggregate, the purpose of the "Social Mobility" RG is to compare the origin and destination statuses of individuals. To what extent can children born into poor circumstances move into the middle class? Are such opportunities deteriorating? Are they deteriorating more so for Hispanics than other groups? The research carried out within this RG may rely on survey data (e.g., the General Social Survey; the CPS), administrative data, or qualitative and mixed methods. By interviewing Hispanic and other families, we can learn more about such topics as why Latino siblings born into poverty often have such divergent outcomes, how the dynamics of family disruption affect aspirations and outcomes, and the reasons why poor Latinos pursue either risky upward mobility strategies or risk-averse "strategies of the status quo."

Immigration Policy (RG Coleaders: Brian Cadena, University of Colorado, Boulder; Roberto Gonzales University of Chicago)
The "Immigration Policy" RG will examine the effects of major changes in immigration policy on the economic and noneconomic outcomes of Hispanics. The rise of unauthorized immigration and associated changes in the legal-political climate are among the key developments of our time, and it is therefore important to explore the implications of those changes for Hispanic poverty and life chances. There are two types of change of special interest here. First, so-called "anti-immigrant laws" have become more common in some communities, especially in some of the new immigrant destinations. To date, there's been research on (a) why Latino immigration has brought about anti-immigrant reactions in some communities but not others, and (b) whether such reactions or policies have any effect on immigration flows. Equally important, however, is the effect of local enforcement actions on the employment opportunities and welfare of local Latino populations, not just immigrants but natives as well. The second change of interest is President Obama's new immigration policy deferring deportation for an estimated 1.76 million young people who have lived in the United States since childhood (70 percent of whom are Mexican). This program offers an important opportunity to study the educational, economic, and social impact of legalization and to assess the effect of having a tenuous and uncertain legal status (as opposed to permanent residence) on economic and educational outcomes. The main purpose, then, of the "immigrant policy" RG is to exploit this unique moment in U.S history to better understand how immigration policy affects poverty and related economic outcomes.

Health and Well-Being (RG Leader: Fernando Riosmena, University of Colorado, Boulder)
The fifth and final RG is devoted to issues of health because of mounting evidence that Latinos, especially poor ones, are facing rising health problems. As we enter into a new health insurance regime, it becomes especially important to better understand the health of the poor Latino population. The baseline findings here are that (a) the health of Latin American immigrants worsens as they spend more time in the United States, and (b) U.S.-born Latinos tend be in worse health than both the immigrant generation and the average U.S. population. This evidence suggests that the adaptation of immigrants to U.S. society takes a toll on health by encouraging the adoption of unhealthy habits and behaviors. Moreover, even though Latinos experience substantial gains in socioeconomic status with time spent in the United States, persistent socioeconomic disadvantages within and across generations affect chronic health conditions in different ways. The main purpose, then, of this RG is to encourage research on health among poor and near-poor Hispanics.