pressions of ethnicity are rendered symbolic as a result of intermarriage, acquired proficiency in English, improved socioeconomic status, and residence in ethnically integrated neighborhoods. Hispanic immigrant communities are experiencing this assimilation process. Most notable are the pace of language shift and intermarriage trends—two pillars of socioeconomic integration and Americanization. Hispanic intermarriage with whites, which is most common among those who are U.S. born and who are better educated, increases socioeconomic mobility.
Areas densely populated by Hispanics, especially by recent immigrants, give the impression that the United States is becoming a bilingual nation. The seeming ubiquity of Spanish in these neighborhoods is, in reality, a transitory phenomenon reflecting the large number of recent immigrants. For Hispanics, Spanish fluency erodes the longer immigrants are in this country and across generations. As did prior non-English-speaking immigrant groups, Hispanics are experiencing a decline in their use of, preference for, and fluency in Spanish. Recent trends suggest that the grandchildren of the present wave of immigrants will likely be primarily English monolingual.
Trends in wages, household income, wealth, and home ownership across time and generations point to the gradual ascension of many U.S.-born Hispanics to the middle class. But as a group Hispanics are losing economic ground relative to whites because of the weak economic position of large numbers of low-skilled immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, which lowers the population averages on socioeconomic measures.
In contrast to these important similarities with previous immigrant groups, several important features distinguish the Hispanic experience from those of other ethnic and minority groups. Understanding these differences is essential for appreciating the opportunities that the growing numbers of Hispanics represent for their communities and for the nation, as well as for alerting policy makers of potential risks to the nation’s economic and political life.
First, a very large proportion of Hispanics—almost half—are foreign born, among whom roughly 40 percent are undocumented. Given the dominance in this group of Mexicans who come to this country with low levels of formal schooling, foreign-born Hispanics feature both high employment and high poverty rates. Hampered by their limited education and a lack of English skills, Hispanic immigrants are concentrated in low-skilled service-sector, agriculture, and production jobs that pay low average