Overall racial inequality = the size of the lagging ethnic group x the size of its average achievement gap.
Our political institutions have only the most indirect influence over the future size of the African-American population. (Absent immigration, it’s stabilizing.)
But we can, democratically, choose—via federal immigration policy—whether the Latino population will be large…or enormous.
So how big is the white-Hispanic achievement? The Thernstroms summarized:
Hispanics do only a little better than African-Americans. In reading and U.S. history, their NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores in their senior year of high school are a few points above those of whites in eighth grade. In math and geography, they are a few points lower.
Obviously, as long as the government winks at massive illegal immigration, this gap will remain huge, because of the constant inflow of the illiterate and unskilled.
But won’t their English-speaking descendents blend seamlessly into the mainstream—as so many commentators imagine?
In their book, the Thernstroms seemed to imply that we don’t have all that much to worry about:
Thus, the average NAEP scores for Hispanics are about as low as those for blacks, but only because the presence of so many low-scoring immigrant children pulls them down.
Okay, but that raises the question: what were the NAEP scores for American-born Hispanics? The Thernstroms didn’t say.
I didn’t have access to the NAEP data for 1992, which was the last time a question about birth country was asked, but I guesstimated that the white vs. American-born Hispanic gap would be equal to two-thirds of the notorious white-black gap.
Recently, while browsing Tom Wood’s new Right on Race blog, I had a chance to ask Stefan Thernstrom what the NAEP data actually showed. He graciously provided the following raw data, to which I’ve added some straightforward calculations. (Number fans click here for table).
Conclusion: overall, the white-immigrant Hispanic achievement gap is actually 14% worse than the notorious white-black disparity.
But for American-born Hispanic children (not just second generation, as many might assume, but the second up through the seventh generation), the gap is 67% as large as the white-black variance.
Exactly as I predicted!
(It’s interesting that the gaps between whites and blacks and native-born and foreign Hispanics are widest among 8th graders and narrowest among 12th graders. Presumably this narrowing is partly caused by differing high school dropout rates, which remove more of the lowest-scoring minorities from the ranks of the test-takers.)
The good news: if we cut off all immigration from Latin America tomorrow, the total white-Hispanic achievement chasm would narrow over the next, say, 30 years, from more than 90% of the white-black difference down to 67%.
That would represent valuable social progress toward ethnic equality.
The bad news: even with no immigration, the white-Hispanic gap in 2034 would still be about two-thirds as big as the disastrous white-black gap.
In other words, the Establishment attitude of blithely tolerating illegal immigration on the assumption that, in the very long run, Hispanics will rise up to the white level of achievement is based on a fatal fallacy.
The really bad news: if the American elites want to keep the illegal immigration floodgates open forever, the overall white-Hispanic gap is likely to remain almost as large as the white-black gap.
Either way, the implication is inescapable: federal immigration policy is importing a new underclass.
(Posted on August 24, 2004)