The dimensions of the Hispanic baby boom are startling. The Hispanic birthrate is twice as high as that of the rest of the American population. That high fertility rate—even more than unbounded levels of immigration—will fuel the rapid Hispanic population boom in the coming decades.
By 2050, the Latino population will have tripled, the Census Bureau projects. One in four Americans will be Hispanic by midcentury, twice the current ratio.
It’s the fertility surge among unwed Hispanics that should worry policymakers. Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country—over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly 1 1⁄2 times that of black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for unmarried white women, 22 for unmarried Asian women, and 66 for unmarried black women.
Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent for whites and 15 percent for Asians. Only the percentage for blacks—68 percent—is higher. But the black population is not going to triple over the next few decades.
Dr. Ana Sanchez delivers babies at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the city of Orange, Calif., many of them to Hispanic teenagers. To her dismay, they view having a child at their age as normal. But what is “most alarming,” Dr. Sanchez says, is that the “teens’ parents view having babies outside of marriage as normal, too. A lot of the grandmothers are single as well; they never married, or they had successive partners. So the mom sends the message to her daughter that it’s OK to have children out of wedlock.”
Conservatives who support open borders are fond of invoking “Hispanic family values” as a benefit of unlimited Hispanic immigration. Marriage is clearly no longer one of those family values. But other kinds of traditional Hispanic values have survived—not all of them necessarily ideal in a modern economy, however. One of them is the importance of having children early and often.
The most powerful Hispanic family value—the tight-knit extended family—facilitates unwed child rearing. Relatives often step in to make up for the absence of the baby’s father. I asked Mona, a 19-year-old parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Santa Ana, Calif., if she knew any single mothers.
She laughed: “There are so many I can’t even name them.” Two of her cousins, 25 and 19, have children without having husbands. The situation didn’t seem to trouble this churchgoer too much. “They’ll be strong enough to raise them. It’s totally OK with us,” she said. “We’re very close; we’re there to support them. They’ll do just fine.”
The tradition of starting families young and expanding them quickly can come into conflict with more modern U.S. mores. Ron Storm, director of the Hillview Acres foster home in Chino, tells of a 15-year-old girl who was taken away from the 21-year-old father of her child by a local child-welfare department. The boyfriend went to jail, charged with rape. But the girl’s parents complained about the agency’s interference, and eventually both the girl and her boyfriend ended up going back to Mexico.
But though older men continue to take advantage of younger women, the age gap between the mother and the father of an illegitimate child is quickly closing. Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties tries to teach young fathers to take responsibility for their children. “We’re seeing a lot more 13- and 14-year-old fathers,” says Kathleen Collins, vice president of health education.
Normally, the fathers, of whatever age, take off. “The father may already be married or in prison or doing drugs,” says Amanda Gan, director of operations for Toby’s House, a maternity home in Dana Point, Calif. Mona, the 19-year-old parishioner at St. Joseph’s, says the boys who impregnated her two cousins are “nowhere to be found.” Her family knows them but doesn’t know if they are working or in jail.
‘Married to the state’
Despite the strong family support, the prevalence of single parenting among Hispanics is producing the inevitable slide into the welfare system. “The girls aren’t marrying the guys, so they are married to the state,” Dr. Sanchez observes. Hispanics now dominate the federal Women, Infants and Children free food program; Hispanic enrollment grew more than 25 percent from 1996 to 2002, while black enrollment dropped 12 percent and white enrollment dropped 6.5 percent.
A case manager at a program for pregnant homeless women in the city of Orange observes the same acculturation to the social services sector, with its grievance mongering and sense of victimhood. “I’ll have women in my office on their fifth child, when the others have already been placed in foster care,” says Anita Berry of Casa Teresa. “There’s nothing shameful about having multiple children that you can’t care for and to be pregnant again, because then you can blame the system.”
The consequences of family breakdown are now being passed down from one generation to the next. “The problems are deeper and wider,” says Ms. Berry. “Now you’re getting the second generation of foster care and group home residents. The dysfunction is multigenerational.”
Yet for all these markers of social dysfunction, fatherless Hispanic families differ from the black underclass in one significant area: Many of the mothers and the absent fathers work, even despite growing welfare use.
How these two value systems—a lingering work ethic and underclass mating norms—will interact in the future is anyone’s guess. From an intellectual standpoint, this is a fascinating social experiment, one that academicians are—predictably—not attuned to. But the consequences will be more than intellectual: They may severely strain the social fabric. Nevertheless, it is an experiment that we seem destined to see to its end.