Socio-Economic Status by Educational Attainment

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As we have seen, the social and economic status of Mexican immigrants lags far behind that of natives and other immigrants. The primary reason for this is that a very large share of Mexican immigrants lack a formal education. Figure 19 reports poverty, poverty/near poverty, lack of health insurance, and welfare use for Mexican immigrants who have not graduated from high school and for those who have at least a four-year college education. In comparison to natives, Figure 19 shows that poverty, lack of health insurance, and welfare use are all dramatically higher for dropouts than for Mexican immigrants with a college education. For example, Mexican immigrants who have not graduated from high school are almost three times as likely as natives to live in poverty. In contrast, only 2.8 percentage points separate the poverty rate of natives and college-educated Mexican immigrants. In terms of welfare use, households headed by Mexican immigrants who are dropouts are more than twice as likely as natives to use at least one major welfare program. While households headed by a college-graduate Mexican immigrant are still somewhat more likely than native households to use welfare, the difference is nowhere near as large as it is between natives and dropout Mexican immigrants.

The one area where education seems to have less of an impact is on health insurance coverage. Lack of health insurance coverage among college-educated Mexican immigrants is common, with 36.8 percent of college-graduate Mexicans uninsured. Of course, more-educated Mexican immigrants are still more likely than those with little education to have insurance. But it appears that a large share of the difference remains even after controlling for education levels. Other factors such as cultural attitudes toward insurance likely explain why such a large percentage of Mexican immigrants do not have health insurance.

The findings in Figure 19 are certainly to be expected. Education levels have become a key determinant of economic and social success in United States. Thus, more-educated Mexican immigrants tend to have a socio-economic standing that more closely resembles that of natives than do less-educated Mexicans. Because such a large share of Mexican immigrants lack a high school education and few are college graduates, the overall position of Mexicans is dramatically lower than natives. In addition, this large gap in education levels explains to a large extent why Mexican immigrants are unable to close the gap with natives even after they have lived in the United States for many years.