Unfortunately, media depictions of the Hispanic middle class often fail to capture these realities – a point of contention for some Hispanic activists.
"Hispanics are often portrayed as poor, low-skilled, under-educated immigrants. That might be true on average if you look at immigrants of the first generation. But if you look at the U.S.-born children of immigrants, there's been a lot of progress in terms of their earnings and education and their overall occupational skills," says Mr. Trejo.
In fact, he points out, some Hispanics are statistically better off than their Anglo counterparts.
"U.S.-born Cubans have more education than white Americans, on average, and higher earnings than white Americans. So some groups of Hispanics look even better than the typical American, especially if you exclude immigrants."
Increasingly, the media stereotype of Hispanics with limited English fluency differs from reality. "Indeed, U.S.-born Hispanics strongly prefer communicating in English," Mr. Trejo says. "Hispanics experience dramatic improvements in English proficiency as we move from first-generation immigrants to their second-generation children, and these language improvements contribute in important ways to earnings progress."
As more U.S. Hispanics achieve financial success, the media likely will be forced to notice. And the ranks of the Hispanic middle class will almost certainly continue to grow in the coming decades.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of Hispanic households will grow 36 percent over the 10-year period ending in 2010. Assuming annual growth of 3.6 percent, this projection actually is quite conservative; annual average growth the last 10 years has been 4.5 percent, and the Census Bureau underestimated the U.S. Hispanic population in 1990 and 2000. If the 4.5 percent growth rate is applied to the number of U.S. Hispanic households in 2000 – as estimated by the Census – the number of new households would swell to about 3.9 million in 10 years, or an average of 390,000 a year.
What does this means in terms of purchasing power? If the 3.9 million new households were to maintain the same mean household income of $38,628 as reported for 1999, collective household income would increase by about $150 billion, or $15 billion a year. That would translate into additional purchasing power of $138 billion or $13.8 billion a year, which would result in total purchasing power of $638 billion in 2010.
With an additional 1.3 million middle-class Hispanic households over 10 years, or an average of 130,000 per year, the Hispanic middle class will provide $76 billion of the new purchasing power.
In terms of cultural identity, U.S. Hispanics are a diverse lot. While newer immigrants predictably maintain strong cultural ties to their countries of origin and Spanish language, native-born U.S. Hispanics have consistently shown themselves capable of embracing both mainstream tastes and time-tested traditions. This distinctive cultural perspective is likely to gain greater notice among marketers and political strategists as Hispanics become more numerous. Advertisers, too, may move away from focusing exclusively on Spanish-language advertising to target Hispanic consumers.
"As the overall U.S. Hispanic population grows, so will the middle-class segment and its political, economic, and social influence," says Frank Chow, chief economist of HispanTelligence. "That's perhaps the most startling thing about the whole U.S. Hispanic phenomenon: We've only just begun to see and understand its implications."
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