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Mexican-Americans Face Wage Woes

The average household income of Mexican-Americans is 40 percent below that of non-Hispanic whites, due largely to lower education levels than nearly all other racial and ethnic groups, a new report shows.

That gap makes Mexican-Americans one of the most disadvantaged groups in the United States, particularly in a high-tech economy that demands an advanced education, according to the report by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California.

"Much of the wage gap between Mexican-Americans and Anglos is because of education," said Jeffrey Grogger, a public policy professor at UCLA and co-author of the study. He noted that workers who completed high school typically had higher wages than those who did not.

Slow economic progress for Mexican-Americans is a serious public policy concern, Grogger said Wednesday, particularly in California, where more than 20 percent of the population is of Mexican descent.

The wage disparity exists even among U.S.-born Mexican-Americans, according to the study, which compared the hourly earnings and education levels of whites, blacks and three generations of Mexican-Americans.

On average, blacks earned roughly 23 percent less than non-Hispanic whites, the study found.

The disparity is greatest among first-generation immigrants from Mexico, who earn up to 86 percent less than non-Hispanic whites in California. Nearly 70 percent did not finish high school.

Second-generation Mexican Americans dramatically improve their education and earnings prospects, with wages 35 percent higher than their parents and only 22 percent without a high-school diploma. However, most of those gains level off by the third generation, despite increased access to education.

Immigration experts and community groups say Mexican-American children often must attend schools that lack up-to-date textbooks, credentialed teachers and access to computers, hampering the group from improving its lot as quickly as previous waves of immigrants.

"We don't have the same education opportunities as many others, and I think that is what causes very little improvement between the second and third generation," said Francisco Estrada, a policy analyst for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Groups also have pointed to institutionalized racism as a barrier to success for Mexican-Americans, along with the added disadvantage that some arrive without documents to work legally.

By Karen Gaudette

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