Hispanics, consisting primarily of a mixture of white, black, and Native American racial origins, are the second largest (and predicted to soon become the largest) ethnic minority in the United States. Of Hispanic-Americans, approximately 64% are Mexican, 11% are Puerto Rican, 5% are Cuban, and 13% are of Central or South American origin. Hispanic-Americans have the highest birthrate and the lowest divorce rate of all ethnic groups, but their per capita income is substantially lower than average (see Figure 8-3). In general, the incomes of Cuban-Americans are higher than those of Mexican-Americans, and the incomes of Mexican-Americans are higher than those of Puerto Rican-Americans (Torres-Gil, 1996). The percentage of Hispanics who have graduated from high school is also substantially lower, the unemployment rate is higher, and a greater percentage live below the poverty line than non-Hispanic-Americans ((U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995).
The low income and low educational levels of Hispanics is due in large measure to the fact that many are recent immigrant laborers who were low on the socioeconomic scale in their country of origin. Another disadvantage, which they share with certain other immigrant groups, is a linguistic one. Those whose English is poor or nonexistent face a barrier, and consequent discrimination, against full participation in American society. This is particularly true of the thousands who enter the United States illegally.
Also, like many other ethnic minorities, the families of Hispanic-Americans are typically more close-knit than those of non-Hispanic whites. In the lives of most Mexican-Americans, in particular, the family is central and the group to which they owe their greatest allegiance. Mutual aid among family members, respect for age, and male leadership are dominant themes. The cooperative, group orientation of Mexican-Americans sometimes bodes well for the wider society, as in their patriotism and willingness to defend their country. However, it may also bode ill, as seen in violence among street gangs and the high crime rate among Hispanic youth.
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