March 7, 2003

Most of California’s Latinos Are Citizens and Bilingual But Few Have a College Degree

Despite being bilingual and mostly U.S. citizens, only a small percentage of California’s Latinos have attained a college education or are currently enrolled in college, according to an analysis by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center of recently released census data.

Sixty-eight percent of the state’s Latinos are native-born or naturalized citizens, according to the analysis by Lisa Catanzarite, senior research sociologist with the center and the study’s author. Among Latino adults statewide, English-monolinguals outnumber Spanish-only speakers. Sixty-seven percent of Latinos statewide are bilingual, and 71 percent in Los Angeles are bilingual.

Nevertheless, Latinos’ educational attainment lags behind that of other ethnic groups, the analysis showed. More than half of the state’s Latino adults lack high school diplomas, compared with 10 percent of non-Latino whites and 20 percent of African Americans and Asian Americans. Eight percent of Latinos obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 34 percent of non-Latino whites and 41 percent of Asian Americans.

“This study overturns many of the stereotypes that often inform public policy,” said Chon Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center. “But it also reveals California’s failure to provide equal educational opportunity for one of the largest groups of tax-paying citizens. In the end, this failure will hurt the entire state.”

Catanzarite’s analysis of Census 2000 data showed that Latinos are primarily United States citizens. Fifty-seven percent of Latinos in the state are native-born, and 51 percent in Los Angeles are native-born. Among foreign-born Latinos across the state, about one-quarter are naturalized citizens. The analysis also showed that 7 percent of Latinos in the state are newcomers, or people who arrived from their native country in the past five years; that figure is 6 percent in Los Angeles.

Catanzarite also analyzed bilingualism among Latino youth. She found that 71 percent of young Latinos in California are bilingual, and 80 percent in Los Angeles speak two languages. Two percent of those ages 5 to 17 in the state are Spanish-monolingual, and 27 percent statewide speak only English. “The fact that most Latinos are English-proficient is not surprising, given that they are overwhelmingly native-born or long-term immigrants,” Catanzarite said. “What is more interesting is that the vast majority also speaks Spanish. This is due to various factors, including having Spanish-speaking family and friends, but also because of proximity to Mexico, Spanish-language media, continuing immigration and the sheer size of the local Latino population.”

Catanzarite also noted that Latinos now make up nearly 47 percent of the kindergarten population in California, and 61 percent of the kindergarten population in Los Angeles. Yet, only 24 percent of college students in California are Latino, 33 percent in Los Angeles.

Catanzarite said the reasons that more Latinos are not getting a college education are many: young people from poor families consider college a luxury, or they are working to support their families; low-quality, segregated schools also contribute to high drop-out rates and poor preparation for college; huge disparities also exist in funding for K-12 education, but the taxation structure for schools goes largely unquestioned; and the curtailment of affirmative action in higher education has only exacerbated the problem.

Catanzarite analyzed Latinos’ stability within California and Los Angeles, and how Latinos identify themselves.

Eighty-three percent of Latinos statewide remained in the same county from 1995 to 2000, or 91 percent in Los Angeles. Latinos are a permanent population and state and local policies aimed at these groups will have long-lasting effects, she said.

Contrary to academic definitions and census categories, Catanzarite said most Latinos consider themselves a distinct race. Latinos accounted for 99 percent of people statewide who identified themselves as “some other race.” However, Latinos also identified as members of other racial groups. For instance, Latinos accounted for 42 percent of those who identified as Native American in the state. Twenty-two percent of the people who identified as white in the state were Latinos.

“To a large degree, Cali-fornia’s future will be built by Latinos,” Catanzarite said. “Therefore, in the best interest of the state, policies must be attentive to Latino well-being and, in particular, should target Latinos’ educational advancement. This should include both adult education programs and retention and recruitment programs at the high school and college levels.”

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