Education urged to integrate growing Hispanic minority

One of every seven U.S. residents is Hispanic, and that will eventually increase to nearly one of every four, according to a new study that calls for improved education to integrate the minority group into society. "Failure to close Hispanics' education and language gap risks compromising their ability to both contribute to and share in national prosperity," cautions the study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation at the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed that graduating from high school is critical. Without that "they are less prepared to apply for jobs even though they may be intelligent," she said. Lack of education "unchains a whole series of events" leading to people not being able to raise themselves up economically, buy homes and raise families, she said.

In addition, lack of fluency in English is a problem, she said, especially for people arriving in their 20s who get caught up in a long work cycle and cannot find time to take classes. Hispanics are a diverse group, ranging from families that have resided in this country since the days of the earliest Spanish colonies to the million of recent immigrants, many of them undocumented.

The most recent estimates from the Census Bureau show 40.5 million Hispanics in a U.S. population of 285.7 million in 2004. The bureau estimates that immigration and natural increases are adding 1.5 million Hispanics annually, a growth rate that will make then nearly 25 percent of the population by 2050.

The key question for the future, the report says, is whether being Hispanic will evolve into a symbolic identity, as has happened with other groups such as Americans of Italian, Polish, German and Irish descent, "or whether it will become an enduring marker of disadvantaged minority group status."

Most immigrant communities become ethnic groups within three generations as a result of intermarriage with other groups, improved ability to speak English, residence in integrated neighborhoods and improved economic status, the report notes. Intermarriage with others is rising among U.S.-born Hispanics, the report said, and Spanish fluency is eroding the longer people are in this country and across generations.

Areas densely populated by Hispanics create the false impression that the United States is becoming a bilingual nation, the report states, and in reality this is a temporary phenomenon because of large numbers of recent immigrants. The grandchildren of the current immigrants will most likely speak mainly English, the report said.

"Although their experiences in some ways mirror those of previous immigrant groups, the size of the Hispanic population, its varied immigration experiences, the global economy and an aging majority population have created unique challenges and opportunities for the nation," Marta Tienda, a sociology professor at Princeton University and head of the panel that wrote the report, said in a statement.

Failure to graduate from high school is the biggest risk facing Hispanics and added funding to improve educational opportunities would help not only them but the country in general, the report suggests, by improving productivity at a time the baby boomers are retiring.

"Significant educational investments will not only foster improvements in their health status, civic engagement and economic productivity, but also contribute to U.S. prosperity," Tienda said, reports the AP.

N.U.

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