Eye on the News

Kay S. Hymowitz
Burying the Lead
The New York Times runs a piece on Hispanic poverty dressed up in happy talk.
29 May 2009

Like most people I know, I am an avid reader of the New York Times. But I do follow several cautionary rules when I gulp down my morning paper of record. One is what I call the two-thirds rule: the most important news, assuming the Times prints it at all, comes about two-thirds of the way through an article.

Today’s piece by Sam Roberts offers a stunning example. His article concerns a new Pew Center study on Hispanic immigration over the past generation, and it leads with the announcement that the name Jose is declining in popularity. This “profound change,” we’re told, reflects the fact that more—52 percent of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children—are American-born. Yes, many are the children of illegal immigrants (as are two out of three of the country’s foreign-born Hispanic kids.) But they’re born in the U.S. and, Roberts continues, are learning English at the same rate as Asian immigrant children. The subtext is clear: Hispanics are assimilating to American life much like previous generations of newcomers and as successfully as the so-called “model” Asian immigrants. Hence, Hispanics’ growing preference for American-sounding names. This is excellent news.

Just make sure you don’t read what comes next. Most immigrants start off rather poor and over generations move up the socioeconomic ladder. Hispanics fit that pattern at first. Forty-seven percent of first-generation Latino children are poor; that rate falls to 26 percent by the second generation. So far, so good. But the third generation shows a disturbing lack of progress. Its poverty rate has barely budged, with 24 percent of its kids poor. Though the article doesn’t make the connection, one cause is clear: the large proportion of Latino children being raised by a single parent. According to the Pew study—noted by Roberts somewhere in the forgotten mid-section of his article—the proportion of such children rises over time and is actually higher in the third generation than in the first and second. This is very bad news.

To be fair, Roberts’s article is not a perfect application of the two-thirds rule—he actually reaches the news about child poverty and family breakdown at the halfway point of his article. But he does hold important data about his subject for the end: it seems that the name Jose is now the tenth most popular name in California, compared with second a decade ago, while in Los Angeles County it is now thirteenth as compared with number one in 1998. If I had a more suspicious nature, I would guess that Times editors and writers have research showing that harried New Yorkers tend to read the first paragraphs of an article, skim the middle, and read the last.

This is what the headline for an article on the Pew study should have been: “A Generational Shift: More Single-Mother Homes, More Poor Kids?” Thanks to the Times, at least we know a lot of those kids will go by the name Dave.

Kay S. Hymowitz is a contributing editor of City Journal and the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book is Marriage and Caste in America.

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