SAN FRANCISCO—American children with immigrant parents are more likely to live in poverty—with no health insurance coverage—and less likely to graduate from high school, a new study finds.
The report, “Children in Immigrant Families: Essential to America’s Future,” compares children in immigrant families with those born to U.S. parents. It examines categories ranging from parental presence at home to quality of health and educational achievements.
“We’re talking about one fourth of the country’s children, and by 2030 half of the children in the U.S. will be minorities, [who] can’t just be ignored,” said the study’s coauthor, Donald J. Hernandez, a sociologist at Hunter College in New York City.
Hernandez, who said the study is the first to examine trends in the well-being of these children, noted that 90 percent of them are also American citizens.
He added that children in immigrant families are on par with those of parents born in the United States in terms of living in households with both parents and having positive early-childhood health. Yet many still face significant hardships because of lower health insurance coverage, poverty and limited educational resources.
Health Care, Poverty and Education
In the report, Hernandez and Jeffrey S. Napierala of the State University of New York, Albany, found that children in immigrant families are almost twice as likely as youngsters with U.S.-born parents to lack health insurance.
The analyzed 2010 data, which shows the proportion without health coverage was 15 percent for children in immigrant families, compared to 8 percent among children with U.S.-born parents. They also found that 21 percent of immigrant families report that their children do not have health they would rate as very good or excellent. That compares to 15 percent among children with U.S.-born parents.
“These children will have a big impact on what the labor force will look like,” Hernandez stressed. “Poor nutrition and poor health is going to detract from their abilities to contribute to society,” he said.
Another significant finding Hernandez mentioned was the high level of poverty among children of immigrant parents.
According to the report, although there are minimal differences between immigrant and U.S.-born parents in having stable employment, the median family income for immigrant families with children in 2010 was $41,500. That is almost a third lower than the $58,900 median income in families with U.S.-born parents.
Hernandez said they also found that about six in 10 immigrant families with children have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. That compares to four in 10 lower-income families with parents born in the U.S.
One of the most pressing issues children of immigrant parents face is the lack of adequate educational support and advancement opportunities for their children. The report reveals that 25 percent of children in immigrant families do not graduate high school, versus 18 percent of children with U.S.-born parents.
Among children who are dual-language learners, only 7 percent become proficient in reading in English by the time they enter the fourth grade. That contrasts with 37 percent of students in English-only homes.
When it comes to mathematics, the study shows only 14 percent of children who learn in two languages become proficient by the fourth grade, compared to 44 percent of English-only learners.
A key factor, Hernandez said, was the lower rate of pre-kindergarten (PreK) enrollment among children in immigrant families, at 44 percent compared to 55 percent among children with U.S. born parents.
To remedy the inequities, Hernandez and Napierala recommend that federal, state, and local governments increase their investments in PreK education and bolster elementary school curricula. They also call for augmenting health insurance laws to cover all children in immigrant families—regardless of their documentation status. And they urge government to reform the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to enable all non-citizen immigrants to receive benefits.
Investing to Benefit Society
Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development, said she recognizes concerns over tax increases are “clearly in the minds of Americans.”
She emphasized, though, “If we made early investments (especially in education), it would start children on a successful trajectory for learning.” Not doing so, she suggested, could increase the chances of youth getting involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Those costs, she said, “are absolutely enormous, and it would be difficult to reverse.”
Hernandez echoed Takanishi, adding, “For every dollar invested in education, there is an $8 return on investment. If they have better paying jobs they’d pay more taxes, which is a good thing. And their support will be particularly important to baby boomers, three-fourths of whom will be white non-Hispanic and very dependent on minority children to fund Social Security.”
Hernandez also noted some cause for optimism in the study.
For example, he said, two-thirds of children both in families with immigrant and U.S. born parents live with at least one securely employed parent, and most children in immigrant families live in two-parent families.
Also, more than one in four children with immigrant parents has a father who earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and a quarter have a mother with a bachelor’s.
By young adulthood, 2010 figures show that 29 percent of children from immigrant families had a bachelor’s degree, only four percent behind those from U.S.-born families.
“Despite these strengths,” Hernandez said, “they are not able to succeed, and we need to provide these resources to them because it is a return on investment for all of society.”