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Italians Then, Mexicans Now

Italians Then, Mexicans Now: Immigrant Origins and the Second-Generation Progress, 1890-2000

Joel Perlmann
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 208
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    Italians Then, Mexicans Now
    Book Description:

    According to the American dream, hard work and a good education can lift people from poverty to success in the "land of opportunity." The unskilled immigrants who came to the United States from southern, central, and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely realized that vision. Within a few generations, their descendants rose to the middle class and beyond. But can today’s unskilled immigrant arrivals—especially Mexicans, the nation's most numerous immigrant group—expect to achieve the same for their descendants? Social scientists disagree on this question, basing their arguments primarily on how well contemporary arrivals are faring. In Italians Then, Mexicans Now, Joel Perlmann uses the latest immigration data as well as 100 years of historical census data to compare the progress of unskilled immigrants and their American-born children both then and now. The crucial difference between the immigrant experience a hundred years ago and today is that relatively well-paid jobs were plentiful for workers with little education a hundred years ago, while today's immigrants arrive in an increasingly unequal America. Perlmann finds that while this change over time is real, its impact has not been as strong as many scholars have argued. In particular, these changes have not been great enough to force today’s Mexican second generation into an inner-city "underclass." Perlmann emphasizes that high school dropout rates among second-generation Mexicans are alarmingly high, and are likely to have a strong impact on the group’s well-being. Yet despite their high dropout rates, Mexican Americans earn at least as much as African Americans, and they fare better on social measures such as unwed childbearing and incarceration, which often lead to economic hardship. Perlmann concludes that inter-generational progress, though likely to be slower than it was for the European immigrants a century ago, is a reality, and could be enhanced if policy interventions are taken to boost high school graduation rates for Mexican children. Rich with historical data, Italians Then, Mexicans Now persuasively argues that today’s Mexican immigrants are making slow but steady socio-economic progress and may one day reach parity with earlier immigrant groups who moved up into the heart of the American middle class.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-445-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    WE SAY COMPLACENTLY that “America is a land of immigrants” only because we also say that “America is the land of opportunity.” When confidence in upward mobility dims, so too does confidence that immigrants and their descendants will enter the mainstream. And because upwards of twenty million immigrants are once again coming to America in the course of a generation, it is natural to ask whether the conditions relevant to immigrant progress in the past are the same today. The stories of immigration and social mobility are tightly linked not only in American mythology, but as well in American history....

  6. CHAPTER ONE Toward a Population History: A Basis for Comparisons
    (pp. 7-36)

    NO ONE WILL claim that ignoring historical context is a virtue, yet discussions of immigration tend to ignore how it has shaped the characteristics of immigrant and ethnic generations. Here I begin with the past and stress three themes. The first is the rationale for the comparison of the Mexicans of today with the SCE immigrants of the past and why Jewish immigrants should be excluded from the comparison. The second concerns timing, when SCE immigrants and second-generation members were most prevalent. Perhaps because the census public-use samples are recent creations, or perhaps because the topic falls at the boundary...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Immigrant Wages Then and Now
    (pp. 37-59)

    I CONCENTRATE on the SCEN then and on the Mexicans now because these immigrant groups arrived in great numbers as low-skill workers in two periods of American history. Portes and Rumbaut (1996) have helpfully called these immigrants labor migrants as distinct from human capital migrants; the latter can trade on their advanced education and professional skills. Human capital migrants have been much more prevalent in the contemporary immigration than during the 1890 to 1914 immigration, but such migrants are a very small proportion among Mexicans now, as they were among the SCEN then. The question is just how much similarity...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Second-Generation Schooling
    (pp. 60-89)

    LOW LEVELS of formal schooling among SCEN and Mexican immigrants, compared to that of the native whites of their times, account for much of their wage handicap. Would education pave the way for their children to escape from the bottom? This question directs our attention to second-generation schooling by focusing, first of the SCEN and then of the contemporary Mexican second generations—in each case relative to the children of native whites.

    However, before turning to these comparisons, I argue that two approaches to contemporary educational trends produce misleading findings. Both approaches have become widespread, the first in governmental reports...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Second-Generation Economic Outcomes
    (pp. 90-115)

    BY 2000, A contemporary second-generation cohort had been in the labor force long enough for us to assess their early experiences. We begin with the familiar past-present comparisons between the SCEN and Mexicans. Later, we will focus in more depth on the contemporary Mexican second generation through a comparison of their well-being with that of American-born blacks.

    Most of the SCEN immigration occurred between 1900 and 1910, and most of the second generation was thus born in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, an appreciable number of SCEN immigrants had already arrived during the 1890s, producing a sizable SCEN second generation, of...

    (pp. 116-125)

    THEMES OF upward mobility and immigrant absorption are at the heart of American social history. This alone would be enough to spur inquiry as to whether the future absorption of immigrants and their offspring will be like its past. But in addition to this general curiosity, there are credible reasons to think that conditions have changed—economic conditions in the host society and the nonwhite origins of the new immigrants in particular. My approach to this question has focused on the low-skill immigrant worker, the Southern, Central, and Eastern Europeans (non-Jews) of 1890 to 1914, and the Mexicans of our...

    (pp. 126-162)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 163-174)
    (pp. 175-182)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 183-196)