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Mixed picture of assimilation

A study finds different gains and obstacles for U.S.-born and immigrant Hispanics.

WASHINGTON - Young Hispanics born in the United States are less likely to drop out of school and live in poverty than young Hispanic immigrants, but they have higher exposure to gangs and violence, an independent research group says.

The study being released today by the Pew Hispanic Center paints a mixed picture of assimilation for a fast-growing group of U.S. citizens starting to wield their political rights: more education and job advancement, but also social problems.

The survey and analysis of census data found that the high school dropout rate among all Hispanic youths ages 16 to 24 was 17 percent - roughly three times higher than white youths and close to double the rate for black youths. But when broken down for second-generation Hispanics born in the United States, the dropout rate falls to 8.5 percent, roughly the same for youths of all races.

Economic well-being also improved for U.S.-born Hispanics. About 29 percent of young immigrant Hispanics lived below the poverty line, more than twice the rate for young whites in a similar age range (13 percent) and slightly worse than young blacks (28 percent). But among second-generation Hispanics, the below-the-poverty-line figure improved to 19 percent.

On the other hand, the U.S.-born youths were twice as likely as their immigrant counterparts to have ties to a gang or to have gotten into a fight or carried a weapon in the last year. About 40 percent reported they were either a gang member or knew a friend or relative who was, compared with 17 percent for those who were foreign-born.

The U.S.-born Hispanics also were more likely to be in prison and perceive instances of racial discrimination.

The Pew report says, "It is clear that many of today's Latino youths, be they first or second generation, are straddling two worlds as they adapt to the new homeland."

The findings come as growing numbers of children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants are born in this country. Today, two-thirds of Hispanics ages 16 to 25 are U.S.-born citizens. Because of high birth rates, these citizens will fuel a doubling of the overall Hispanic population, to 30 percent by 2050.

The changes could shift the nation's political discourse. The study says young U.S.-born Hispanics tend to be less conservative than immigrants, at least on cultural issues.