What the Hell am I supposed to make of the new Pew report?


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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70 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I’m not sure I understand your confusion.

    The notion that people in rotten job-markets stay in school or go to school or go back to school is commonly held. I don’t know if there is a basis for it or it is one of those things that has just been decided to be so, but it’s not at all unique to Hispanics.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      This isn’t really a case of staying in school longer, or going back to school. This is a case of a HS grad deciding that because there aren’t enough crappy menial labor jobs right now, they might as well go to college and get a degree. That seems light years away from, say, a single mom who got laid off and decides to go get her masters.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Education for education’s sake is a very WASPy thing. Other people are motivated by different things. If Hispanics as a group decide that the expected returns from going to college are not high enough* and there are sufficiently good/solid jobs that you can get on a HS diploma. They will not choose college. If blue collar joblessness is sufficiently bad, the calculus can change.

        *Of course we may ask why they have such low estimates. Seriously, I don’t know. If I were to hazard a guess, it would be trust. This is a pattern we see the world over. When people do not trust the providers of education (as often happens in a lot of poor countries and communities) they lower their estimates of the benefits of education. When you think of college as being run by one of “them” instead of one of “us”, your apprehension that college may not be a place where you belong increases. If it helps you can think of it as a white privilege thing.Report

        • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Murali says:

          *yawn* or it could just be that the EV is different. Remember that wealth is a far better thing to measure by than income… (in terms of a lot of things).Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If I am not mistaken, prior to 1929 most youths between the ages of 14 and 18 were not enrolled in secondary school. Prior to 1902, my hometown (which had 150,000 people in it at that time) could be served by one public high school and not until the Depression did it have more than two. Attending and completing high school got to be standard behavior during the 1930s for people from wage earning households and the curricula offered at high schools changed to reflect a different clientele. Of course, there was only opportunity cost in attending high school, and not the pecuniary cost.

        I should note that the study is referring to the subset of ‘high-school graduates’ in both subpopulations, which may differ in their relative size.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        Some people want to go to college, full stop. They have their eyes on a white collar career, they have intellectual curiosity, they have a family that expects it of them, whatever.

        Others, though, want a job, money, and to get on with their life. A lot of those people will end up going to college anyway. Others, though, will look around and see what kind of opportunities are available. I had some (white) friends that did this. One became a locksmith. Another went into computers. Both are doing well.

        The fewer avenues to do well outside of college, however, the more you have to consider college whether you want to go or not. This applies to white folks and black folks as well as Hispanics. But it would theoretically apply disproportionately to the latter two groups, I would expect, because (a) they are less likely to fall into the category of fullstop wanting to go to college and so it’s more likely to be a utilitarian calculation, and (b) in times like these, I’d kinda-sorta think that whites probably have more opportunities for non-collegiate careers like locksmithing, pipefitting, or whatever, because they are more likely to know people who are established in their careers. This part is guesswork, though.Report

      • My understanding is that some community colleges give financial aid awards equivalent to stipends. And I’ve heard from someone who works at one in Chicago that until recently, when the college cracked down, a large number (I don’t know how large) of students got their stipend, stayed in class long enough to be counted as “enrolled,” and then skipped out. My point isn’t to bait any particular group of people, but such funding would, I imagine, further encourage people to go to school as part of the dynamic that Will describes.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    A hat, a paper airplane, a pteredactyl…Report

  3. Avatar Rogue Economist says:

    I can’t argue with the numbers but I think trying to tie their argument purely to economics is specious.

    More latinos or hispanics are second-generation or later in the country. The children of immigrants go to school in the USA, high school in the USA, and are likely to have parents urging them towards academic achievement so that the children can find better careers than their parents had. This is the nature of the majority of voluntary immigration in the USA historically, driven by the desire to provide a better life and better prospects for the next generation.

    In the 1980-2001 pair of decades, the USA saw an immigration boom nearly the equal of 1891-1911. The children of that boom are going to college. It should not be surprising to them, becausePew observed it just a few months ago.Report

    • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Rogue Economist says:

      “Crack in Spanish Harlem” by Phillipe Bourgeois provides an interesting counter to your argument. [aside: yes, it’s old. the culture is the interesting part, not so much the timeperiod. am willing to take for granted that the culture has changed.]Report

  4. Avatar Kimsie says:


    Just shows that they can read just as much as the next man. Your dad, maybe, had a job as a construction worker (My data’s pulled from Arizona, where a lot of Hispanics were in construction). IF he decided to remain in the United States (a good deal didn’t), he’s been out of work and having trouble. YOU damn well aren’t gonna make the same mistake your dad did. (You’ll make new ones! … same as everyone else).

    My point is that: the job climate for everyone who isn’t a college grad has gotten worse, and continues to be really, really bad.Report

  5. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Am I missing some context? What you’ve quoted makes sense and doesn’t seem like it’s being described negatively.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        To further clarify, both the report and it’s future implications are incredibly positive. I’m trying to puzzle out the proposed explanation, which makes as much sense to me as my saying the reason I decided to go to college is because the neighborhood 7-11 just wasn’t hiring.Report

        • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Do they have data to back up their supposition that it’s because the neighborhood 7-11 isn’t hiring?
          Because I can see someone making that argument (and it having a good deal of validity) … ya know, if they had data.Report

        • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I think ascribing a single explanation is inadequate.

          Lower-income unemployment plus involved parents might mean a push from the family to be in college.

          Inability to find a job plus the realization that friends or other family members in college have better job and earning prospects may be an incentivizing factor.

          Involved parents who are of the mindset that “I cut laws, I repair plumbing, I scrub other people’s toilets but my SON or my DAUGHTER is going to college to be a lawyer or a doctor” may very well be a factor.

          Again, the generalized trend is for second-generation immigrants to achieve higher than the first generation in both education and employment. I think that ascribing it to a single, purely economic reasoning is unreasonable but try comparing your “because the neighborhood 7-11 just wasn’t hiring” descriptive to my proposed incentives above. Are they similar?Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Suppose you have the choice between

          1. Starting to make some money, get your own place, and become independent of your parents, or
          2. Staying in school for another four years

          You could choose either of those. Now suppose that 1 is no longer feasible.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          If you could get a good job (I don’t know why you’re assuming 7-11) without having gone to college, would you have gone?Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:


    Nothing in the quoted section refers to the type of work Hispanics are struggling to find. Why do you assume it is menial? I, too, am confused by your confusion.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      Then perhaps that is where my thinking is failing me.

      Are there large numbers of high-paying white-collar careers nationwide that target Hispanic kids that have only completed high school?

      I confess I had kind of assumed not, but I certainly admit I could be wrong about this.Report

      • Avatar Kimsie in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        An air conditioner repairman is not “menial” labor. Neither are most factory jobs (and yes, hereabouts they’re hiring)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        There is a lot of mileage between “high-paying white-collar careers” and “menial work”. You know a career I’ve seen a lot of people of color without four-year degrees pursue? Teacher aides/assistants. These jobs typically only require an Associates and sometimes not even that, depending on the type of school. You can carve out a decent life for yourself with such a job. You make a solid wage, have reliable employment, benefits (typically), are home when your children are, and it doesn’t require a ton of education or training. But these are also jobs that are being cut in many places due to budgetary constraints. Or which there is more competition for as lead teaching positions dwindle and such folks accept lesser roles in the classroom.

        This is just one example. Perhaps a teacher’s assistant would seem like menial work to some but I’d call that an inaccurate characterization.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

          Putting aside the point that as an example of a meaningful career one can have without any post-HS education, you’ve given one that usually requires post HS education – I worry that this line of thinking is dangerous.

          This, I confess, might well be showing my age.

          When I think of all the obstacles I’ve seen discriminated people have to overcome (and I’m talking here about all levels of discrimination, from the really minutely low-level to South African apartheid), the most universal is those in privilege (sorry, Jay) saying, “they probably like it better this way anyway.”

          In this case, we’re not talking about a sinking tide that sent all boats to Wesley and Dartmouth. College admissions have jumped for one race in a way they haven’t for others. So when I think about the explanation given for why THIS race made decisions OTHER races did not seem to make, I worry that it sates in a very unsaid way that white-collar jobs are just less meaningful to Hispanics than they are to the rest of us.

          And that makes me uncomfortable, because it feels more like perpetuating an artificial barrier than it does a uncovering a Truth.

          Again, I could absolutely be way off – but this is the way all of this shows up on my radar.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I’m still no sure I understand your position.

            Let me try to rephrase it and you tell me if I’m getting it…

            You see this finding and the explanation offered as evidence that, for Hispanics, post-HS education and the job opportunities it allows for were not seen as viable options and are only being sought as a “backup plan” because their original goal of blue collar work became too difficult to achieve?

            Do I have that right?Report

      • Avatar Just Me in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I think what is wrong is that you are assuming that these kids can only work as farm hands, laborers or such. As jobs have dried up many have returned to college. Not necessarily to get the super high paying job, but because they could get grants, loans, and scholarships to live on while trying to pave the way for their next career.

        To answer your question are there large numbers of high-paying white-collar careers nationwide that target Hispanic kids that have only completed high school. NO. There are not any large numbers of high-paying white-collar careers nationwide that target ANY kids who have only completed high school.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “Are there large numbers of high-paying white-collar careers nationwide that target Hispanic kids that have only completed high school?”

        There aren’t really any high-paying white collar jobs nationwide for anyone with just a high school education.

        Going to college does not guarantee a comfortable middle-class existence but not going pretty much damns someone to not having a comfortable middle-class existence. Except for the few who become professional athletes, models, etc.Report

  7. Avatar George Turner says:

    I have no knowledge of what’s behind the trend, but I can suggest a few things to look into.

    Has going to college suddenly caught hold in Spanish language media outlets, from cable TV, radio, and newspapers? Often immigrant communities make fairly rapid changes in behavior as first-hand experience sweeps through the community. Think Vietnamese nail salons as you sit in a hotel owned and run by someone from India.

    Have there been recent changes in the rate at which Hispanic students are accepted into college regardless of their legal status? For example, are California rates holding constant while other states are only now catching up, so that the apparent trend is really from states like Alabama or Iowa making it as easy as California for illegals or first-generation students to apply, get financial aid, etc? (First generation citizens whose parents might not normally meet certain criteria on all the forms because the parents are here illegally)

    Is there a subset of Hispanic students who’ve figured out how to take advantage of the student loans we offer? By take advantage, I mean anything from “Hey, we should do this like everybody else,” to “How are they going to track us down for repayment? We’re illegals!” I’m pretty sure we don’t have a college loan extradition treaty with Mexico.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

      Oh, and finally, have other kids suddenly figured out that they really should check the box labeled “Hispanic”, even if they’re Jewish, Asian, or trace back to the Mayflower? “Diversity, baby, and I’m 15% more likely to get accepted!”Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to George Turner says:

        Did you even read the article?

        Hispanics continue to lag whites in a number of key higher education measures. Young Hispanic college students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56% versus 72%), they are less likely to attend a selective college,3 less likely to be enrolled in college full time, and less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.

        They’re not fudging numbers to get into Harvard here.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to George Turner says:

      I recommend you actually talk to an immigrant college student if you think it’s easy for illegals (or non-citizens with valid visas) to get student loans. For example, no federal loans unless you have a green card or blue passport. You’re not helping the stereotype of nativism being linked to ignorance.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    Tod – Consider this:

    The Hispanic high school graduate is more likely to go to college than the white high school graduate because the high school dropout rate for Hispanics is higher. Let’s take a simple model, where 25% of white students only complete 8th grade, 50% of white students only complete high school, and 25% complete college. That’d be 1/3 of hs grads entering college. We’ve got 50% of hispanic students stopping at 8th grade, 25% at high school, and 25% at college. That’s 1/2 of hs grads entering college.

    This isn’t just a theoretical explanation either. I remember seeing data that had Camden NJ at the top for college attendence.

    My guess is that this accounts for at least some of what Pew found in the numbers, but they didn’t think to include it in their explanation. Your confusion is understandable.Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Immigrants tend to grasp the value of a college/university education more than a long-term native working class.

    My great-grandparents came hear from Europe sometime between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Three of my four grandparents completed some form of college educated or above. I think my grandparents saw college as a way that their kids could become more American and stop doing menial labor in sweatshops. My parents both have advanced degrees and I have an advanced degree.

    When I was in college, I met people who could trace their families back to the colonial times or at least early Republic days and said people were still the first in their families to attend college/university. I found this a bit shocking. However, they just came from a long line where jobs and skills were handed down from generation until generation until it was no longer feasible. Or as Murali says above: Some people and cultures learn to distrust the authority of educational figures and see it is “us” vs. “them” terms. If professors are the “them” you are going to be skeptical of going to university.

    I don’t think this is very racist. A large part of Hannah Rosin’s End of Men argument is really that she means it is the End of Blue Collar Men. According to various members of the chattering classes, it used to be possible for a person with a high-school diploma to get a good factory and/or union-job that would employee him (or her) for life with a decent income, insurance, and benefits. These people did not have skills but they were given a lower-middle class but solid life and could afford a house and a car. Those days are gone. There are still factory jobs but they require a CC degree at least or some kind of above High School training. At least according to reports done on NPR’s Planet Money.

    For better or for worse or for whatever, some communities and cultures and families just tended to stay in the working-class. There are probably multiple reasons for this both by choice and not by choice, etc.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to NewDealer says:

      On the other hand, college used to be really hard because they only took a thin slice from the top, and our colleges were originally set up to accept two, maybe three people from the Mayflower (ship’s doctor, minister, etc), not all of them, no matter how long they’d been here. And of course we’ve been downgrading the value of a degree by lowering requirements, achievement levels, and increasing the quantities produced such that many degrees are being treated like high-school diplomas were in older times.

      Interestingly, in some tech fields like computers, a degree doesn’t necessarily mean that much. Some of the cutting-edge game companies will bypass a college graduate to hire a kid out of high-school, more like they’re recruiting for professional athletes instead of looking for someone who got a degree in sports studies.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer says:

      According to various members of the chattering classes, it used to be possible for a person with a high-school diploma to get a good factory and/or union-job that would employee him (or her) for life with a decent income, insurance, and benefits. These people did not have skills but they were given a lower-middle class but solid life and could afford a house and a car. Those days are gone.

      In the 1920s, people generally left school at 14 or 15 and learned their trade in apprenticeships. Union insurance dates from the 1930s. The practice of adding medical insurance to compensation packages dates to the 2d world war. It allowed companies to recruit in a time of intense labor shortage without running afoul of wage and price controls. I’ve a 2d degree relation who was a high-level federal civil servant. He retired in 1956 with a pension that had a fixed nominal value and would in today’s currency amount to about $1,100 a month. (His retirement was involuntary, btw).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Art Deco says:

        If I’m remembering correctly, I don’t think this is right. One aspect of the Progressive Era was the High School movement, a push to have 14 to 18 year olds in school rather than going out to work. The High School movement was particularly big in the Mid-West and North East. I think that by the late 1910s or early 1920s, most Americans aged 14 to 18 were in school. At least in the more industrialized and urban parts of the country. In the South, you might be right.Report

        • Avatar Art Deco in reply to LeeEsq says:

          My figure came from an article in the Wilson Quarterly. Forget the date.Report

        • I don’t know the facts, but I would be very surprised if “most” Americans 14 to 18 were in school. I imagine the Progressive Era push was the first salvo of an evolution that took a couple decades, perhaps to the 1930s or beyond, to fully take hold.

          But again, I don’t have the facts, just a few anecdotes that at the end of the day probably only confirm my bias.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer says:

      For better or for worse or for whatever, some communities and cultures and families just tended to stay in the working-class. There are probably multiple reasons for this both by choice and not by choice, etc.

      I think wage earners outnumber the sum of salaried employees and full-time proprietors by about two to one. It is perfectly normal to stay in the working class. That is where most people are most of their lives.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Art Deco says:

        That is not quite what I meant by working-class.Report

        • Avatar Just Me in reply to NewDealer says:

          What do you mean by working class? I’m just curious, I have always considered myself working class and I wonder what working class means to you.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Just Me says:

            Working class is a polite and respectful way of talking about people whose income levels/living standards do not qualify them for inclusion among the middle class or higher.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Just Me says:

            I suppose someone can make a broad argument and say that anyone who needs to work or earn a salary for their lifestyle is working-class. This seems rather silly to me. A doctor or lawyer making 400,000 gross income a year might be working for their lifestyle but they are also certainly living a very nice life and could be part of the 1 percent or close to it.

            To me working class are people who work and are not students and make under 35,000 USD. They might not be poor or struggling. Also the jobs tend not to be glamorous but here we get into more complicated arguments. I think most people consider blue collar workers to be working class. Many people might consider nurses, fire fighters, and police officers to be working class but some of them earn quite good incomes. However, very few people would consider an actor who works a bunch of odd jobs and/or bartends and caters to be working class despite possibly earning less than the blue collar nurse or construction worker. This is where cultural divisions come in.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer says:

              I believe there is a higher propensity to have to clock-in and clock-out if you are a public employee than in other circumstances. Nurses also work shifts. That complicates the taxonomy. The amount of vocational training and off-hours study put police, firefighters, and nurses either in the bourgeoisie or in the working-class elites along with machinists and skilled printers.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer says:

              I would wager that the vast majority of actors earn most of their living from off-stage employment.Report

            • I define working class (or middle-class or upper-class or working poor) by a nexus of several factors, all of which place someone on spectrum. The relevant factors:

              1. Income: how much they make
              2. How much control over their working conditions they have: do they have to punch a clock, write in their time, come and go as they please?
              3. What kinds of connections they can draw on to get employment or otherwise survive, and what those connections can or can’t do.
              4. Self identity
              5. Means of earning a living: manual vs. non-manual; professional vs. waged labor vs. rentier income
              6. Level of education
              7. How respected is their employment, and in what ways and by whom is it respected?

              Obviously, my definition is too complicated to admit of any easy identification.

              As for me, I identify my background (though not my current class position) as “affluent working class.” My father was a unionized electrician, he owned his own house, owned some property in the mountains that he tried to develop as a mining business on the side, and my mother worked (as a teachers aid), but did not have to.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Just Me says:

            By ‘working class’, I mean a household which garners most of its income from the following sources:

            1. Hourly wages
            2. Pension income derived from wage employment
            3. Social Security derived from wage employment

            “middle class” households derive the bulk of their income from:

            1. Salaried employment
            2. Proprietor’s income
            3. Fee income
            4. Commissions
            5. Pensions derived from the above
            6. Social Security derived from the above

            “upper class” or “patrician” households have the following characteristics

            1. Considerable assets generating rentier income (place arbitrarily at $900,000 per household member)


            2. An abiding position of influence.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Art Deco says:

              Do you need to have rentier income to be considered upper-class? Is there anytime a salaried or proprietary income is high enough to be considered upper-class? An A-list celebrity makes money through means you describe as middle-class but there income is in the millions and life-style that reflects this. A lot of people in finance also earn their income through non-rentier methods. I’d say that once income reaches in the high six-figure range, say above 500,000, than you are upper-class. If your income is between 100,000 and 500,000 than you are upper-middle class.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I’d argue that once you are able to lead a high-income, wealthy life based on rentier income, you are upper class. So, Mark Zuckerberg may have a job, but the fact that he doesn’t need one means he is upper class.

                I wouldn’t tie it to income, specifically, though. Someone who makes $600,000 per year but only for a year, is not upper class yet. They have the income to get there, but not the wealth to be there.Report

  10. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    It is possible that the rise in high school completion and college enrollment by Latino youths has been driven, at least in part, by their declining fortunes in the job market. Since the onset of the recession at the end of 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16 to 24 has gone up by seven percentage points, compared with a five percentage point rise among white youths. With jobs harder to find, more Latino youths may have chosen to stay in school longer.

    They’re trying to list all possible variables that can account for the lowered labor force participation rates in youth. It’s common rhetorical turn of phrase, and it tends to try to use numbers that are most likely to catch attention by the media.

    I’d recommend reading this to see the full extent of how they came up with their findings: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42519.pdfReport

    • That is to say, the improvement versus white youth is interesting, but it ignores the fact that whites have ALWAYS had a higher employment/population ratio than ANY OTHER ETHNICITY IN THE US. This means that in fact, high school graduate whites were in fact the least likely to go to college versus find work out of all the major ethnic groupings. Latinos were the next least likely, while Asian Americans were the most likely to go to college. African-Americans had a low employment/population ratio because of fewer opportunities to work….Report

  11. Avatar Will H. says:

    They say a rising tide lifts all boats.
    But it’s stated only as means of justifying predispositions.

    When the tide comes and the boats rise, everyone speaks of how the ocean liners are riding a bit lower these days.Report

  12. Avatar Milo Schield says:

    You said “I find myself puzzled by the likely explanation given by Pew for the big increase in college-bound Hispanics”. But Pew never said that the unemployment difference was “THE likely explanation”. In fact, Pew offered two explanations: unemployment difference between 2008 and 2012 and culture. E.g., In 2009, 89% of Hispanics (74% of all Americans) ages 16 and older agreed that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in life today. The Pew data from 2000-2008 supports the cultural difference explanation. According to Pew, the percentage of Hispanic recent HS grads who attended college increased from 49% in 2000 to 62% in 2008: a 13 point increase. Attributing this increase to a difference in cultural expectations or values is difficult, but attributing this 13 point increase to a rising unemployment differential during “good times” may be even harder. If culture is better than unemployment at explaining the 13 point increase between 2000 and 2008, culture may also be better at explaining the 7 point increase between 2008 and 2012. See the Pew summary: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/05/09/hispanic-high-school-graduates-pass-whites-in-rate-of-college-enrollment/Report