Politics & Policy

The Hispanic Family: The Case for National Action

Looking at and for honest numbers.

Those of us who have documented the growing underclass culture among second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans have grown accustomed to being called bigoted “xenophobes” by open-borders conservatives. For some reason, these same conservatives don’t object to anyone decrying the consequences of black illegitimacy rates, or the toll of black gang culture on community life. But point out the high Hispanic illegitimacy and school drop-out rates, or the march of ever-younger Hispanics into gangs, and you can be sure of being accused of “anti-Hispanic cant” by people who work overtime to maintain the myth of the redemptive Hispanic.

The list of bigots just got longer. Add the Economist magazine to the group of entities and individuals who need scourging for their anti-Hispanic bias. In the March 19 issue, the magazine reports the “bad news from California: The vaunted Latino family is coming to resemble the black family.” The magazine has the temerity to offer facts that are fighting words in some precincts of the right: “Half of all Hispanic children were born out of wedlock last year.” “The birth rate among unmarried Latinas is now much higher than the rate among black or white women.” “In 1995 the unmarried teenage birth rate for Latinas was 20% lower than the rate for blacks. It is now 12% higher.” “More than half of all young Hispanic children in families headed by a single mother are living below the federal poverty line, compared with 21% being raised by a married couple.”

To be sure, The Economist notes, stating the obvious: the “Latino family is not in such a dire state as the black family, where 71% of children are born to single mothers.” But the trends are not favorable: “the gap appears to be closing.” And even if both Latino parents are living together, that arrangement is no guarantee of familial stability: “unmarried Mexican-American couples who have children while living together are slightly more likely to break up than are blacks or whites in similar circumstances.”

Conservatives of all stripes routinely praise Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s prescience for warning in 1965 that the breakdown of the black family threatened the achievement of racial equality. They rightly blast those liberals who denounced Moynihan’s report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” as an expression of bigotry. Conservatives are equally fond of Moynihan’s 1993 article “Defining Deviancy Down.” That essay, published in the American Scholar, observed that American culture had responded self-defeatingly to the breakdown of traditional social controls by redefining what was once deviant behavior, such as illegitimacy, as normal.

It turns out that open-borders conservatives are themselves flawless at defining deviancy down — when it suits their purposes. The black illegitimacy rate was 23.6 percent in 1965, when Moynihan declared a crisis in the black family. Today’s Hispanic illegitimacy rate is over twice that, yet purveyors of the redemptive Hispanic myth tell us that all is well. So was Moynihan’s analysis right then but wrong now?

I have invited my critics to leave their think tanks and actually do some field research in heavily Hispanic schools. Were they to do so, they would discover that the stigma around teen pregnancy and single parenting has all but disappeared. The apologists for the Hispanic family would have to add to their growing list of anti-Hispanic bigots teens like Liliana, an American-born senior at Manual Arts High School near downtown Los Angeles. “This year was the worst for pregnancies,” she told me in 2004. “A lot of girls got abortions; some dropped out.” There’s no stigma attached to getting pregnant, Liliana reported. The myth-makers might also talk to teachers, who say that for many Hispanic male students, being a “player” now includes fathering children out-of-wedlock.

I am unaware that any open-borders conservatives have taken up my suggestion, but the Economist somehow managed to get some sense of the culture. “Machismo” among young Latinos in Fresno, Ca., makes them less likely to use condoms in their teen trysts, the Economist learned. Cohabitation is seen as normal among the poor, and single parenthood merely regrettable, the magazine reports.

Here’s someone else who will have to be added to “the list:” the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Samuel Rodriguez. He warns that the state of the Latino family is a greater problem for Latinos than immigration reform, according to The Economist.

No one would ever label the Economist as restrictionist on immigration matters. But it has shown that a commitment to the facts is compatible with a range of policy positions on immigration. And it is those facts that will ultimately determine the fate of Hispanic immigrants and their progeny in the U.S. — whether they climb America’s economic and social ladder or form an increasingly entrenched second underclass. 

– Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and co-author of The Immigration Solution.


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