In America

Immigrants in America: The second-generation story

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Tucked in the Senate bipartisan plan on immigration reform are key requirements for prospective immigrants. Among them, a knowledge of English, civics and history of the United States. Assimilation is clearly an underlying issue in the debate.

A new study shows that second-generation Americans have enjoyed success in becoming a part of America.

Roughly 6 in 10 said they consider themselves to be a "typical American," though they maintain ties to their ancestral roots. That's almost double the number of immigrants who identify that way, according to a new Pew Research Center study released Thursday.

Like Jose Martinez, 29, a son of Dominicans who owns his own graphic design company in New Jersey.

"It's important to try and hold on to your roots, stay Latino," he said. "But you have to be American at the same time."

And Suvrat Bhargave, 44, a son of Indian immigrants, who likes to say Indian is an adjective but American is the noun when he describes himself as Indian-American.

Martinez  believes his interests - he likes snowboarding, biking and social media - jibe with mainstream America. His ethic of hard work, strong among immigrants in general, puts him on a path of achieving the dream.

"I'm on my way to doing better than my father," he said.

Bhargave, too, believes he is in a better place in life now than his father was at the same age. There is a lesser sense of isolation.

With his father's generation, two worlds were clearly defined. India and America.

"I think we have created a world that fits us," said Bhargave, a child psychiatrist in suburban Atlanta.

The comments and the findings of the Pew study are not surprising, perhaps, when you think about the waves of immigration in this country. The biggest difference is that the bulk of America's newest second-generation adults are not Europeans. Half of the 44 million immigrants who arrived in America after the passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965 are Latinos and about a quarter are from Asia.

The roughly 20 million adult U.S.-born children of these immigrants  are substantially better off than immigrants on several measures of socio-economic progress, said the Pew study, based on the latest U.S. Census data.

More second-generation immigrants - half of whom are Hispanics and Asian-Americans - are college graduates and have higher incomes. Second-generationers' median household income is $58,000, compared to $46,000 for immigrants. More are homeowners and fewer - 11% versus 18% - live in poverty.

"In all of these measures, their characteristics resemble those of the full U.S. adult population," said the Pew report, based on an analysis of the latest U.S. Census Data.

Second-generation Latinos and Asian-Americans differ from the general population in the importance they place on hard work and career success. They identify more with the Democratic Party rather than the GOP. 

That is more in line with the values and beliefs held by immigrants.

But they are more likely to speak English than immigrants.  They are also more likely to marry outside their ethnic or racial group.

The comparisons hold up across racial and ethnic groups, Pew found, though it recognized vast differences between different groups. Many Hispanic immigrants have relatively low levels of formal education and work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs, while the majority of Asian immigrants are more educated and are in higher-skilled occupations.

The study said:

These large racial or ethnic group differences in the human capital of recent immigrants are echoed in the socioeconomic profile of the second generation," the study said. "For example, some 55% of second-generation Asian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 21% of Hispanics. There are also gaps in household income and poverty rates among second- generation Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

The Pew report points out that some immigration experts have questioned whether the children of modern-day immigrants will be able to experience the upward mobility of previous generations.

The skeptics cite many factors: Most modern immigrants are non-white and thus face deeply ingrained social and cultural barriers; about a quarter of today’s immigrants (the vast majority of whom are Hispanic) have arrived illegally and thus must navigate their lives in the shadows of the law; globalization and technology may have eliminated many of the jobs that provided pathways to the middle class for earlier generations of hard-working but low-skilled immigrants; the relative ease of travel and communication have enabled today’s immigrants to retain their ties to their countries of origin and may have reduced incentives to adapt to American customs and mores.

The report warns against making judgments based on the data that was analyzed, saying that data trends do not reach far back enough in history.

But the findings are important as the immigration debate heats up in Congress.

And because of this fact: Consider that virtually all of the growth (93%) of America's working-age population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by first-generation immigrants and their U.S.-born children. That's according to Pew's projections given current trends.

Asians, more than Latinos, are largest group of new arrivals in U.S.