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Press Release · November 20, 2003

Mexicans Represent Higher Proportion Of Today’s Immigrants

They Are Also Younger, Poorer, Less Educated Than Immigrants from Other Regions

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 20, 2003 — Nearly half of the immigrants who arrived in California during the 1990s were born in Mexico, a substantial increase from the previous decade, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Among the 2.8 million new immigrants who arrived in California within the past 10 years, Mexicans and Central Americans also have some of the poorest outcomes, with a greater percentage living in poverty and crowded housing conditions.

Using data from the 2000 Census, the study finds that 46.2 percent of all new immigrants in California were born in Mexico — more than six times the number of new immigrants from any other country and far higher than the number reported in the 1990 Census (38.2%). “This change highlights important policy challenges at both a state and national level, from language issues in California schools to negotiations with Mexico about a new guest worker program,” says PPIC research fellow Laura Hill, who coauthored the report with research associate Joseph Hayes.

Overall, recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America face greater socioeconomic challenges than their counterparts from other major sending regions, such as Southeast and East Asia. Nearly one-third live below the poverty line, compared to only 16 percent of Southeast Asians and 21 percent of East Asians. More than 70 percent have less than a high school diploma (Southeast Asians: 26%, East Asians: 14%). And nearly 80 percent live in crowded housing conditions (Southeast Asians: 57%, East Asians: 36%). However, there is reason for optimism: The report, California’s Newest Immigrants, finds that immigrants living in the United States for 10 to 20 years have improved their well-being on a number of important measures, including education levels, poverty, and English language ability.

Other Key Findings:

  • Although California receives far more new immigrants than any other state, its share of the nation’s new immigrants has declined from 36 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2000.
  • India was not in the top 10 sending countries in 1990, but in 2000, it was fifth largest (4%).
  • The Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas are home to nearly 75 percent of the state’s new immigrants, although they constitute at least 1 percent of the population in every county.
  • On average, recent Mexican/Central American immigrants are nearly a full decade younger than those from East and Southeast Asia (24.5 years versus 34 years, respectively).

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.