Tom Diaz


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs on August 11, 2009 at 6:52 pm


Bob Herbert’s column in The New York Times today (“A Scary Reality,” August 11, 2009), puts a finger right on what he correctly observes should be the biggest story in the nation–the continuing slow motion jobs train wreck, particularly among young people:

The percentage of young American men who are actually working is the lowest it has been in the 61 years of record-keeping, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

For male teenagers, the numbers were disastrous: only 28 of every 100 males were employed in the 16- through 19-year-old age group. For minority teenagers, forget about it. The numbers are beyond scary; they’re catastrophic.

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn’t just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder.

Combine the dismal jobs picture with demographic trends among young Latinos and you come up with the unpleasant prospect of  a massive storm on the gang front.  The pool of “second generation” youth from which gangs like the 18th Street gang, MS-13, the Latin Kings, and others recruit is growing.  Moreover, these young people are restless and without the prospect of employment essential to what sociologists call “socialization.”   And all this comes at a time when law enforcement resources — essential to “gang suppression” — are being cut and diverted to other priorities.

[If this post interests you, also see this later post on the loss of manufacturing jobs specifically.]

The Second Generation Pool

The Pew Hispanic Center recently issued a report on the demographic profile of the nation’s Latino youth.  Here is an excerpt from the study, Latino Children: A Majority Are U.S.-Born Offspring of Immigrants, by Richard Fry, Senior Research Associate, and Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Demographer.  (The full report is available here):

Hispanics now make up 22% of all children under the age of 18 in the United States–up from 9% in 1980–and as their numbers have grown, their demographic profile has changed.

A majority (52%) of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children are now “second generation,” meaning they are the U.S.-born sons or daughters of at least one foreign-born parent, typically someone who came to this country in the immigration wave from Mexico, Central America and South America that began around 1980. Some 11% of Latino children are “first generation”–meaning they themselves are foreign-born. And 37% are “third generation or higher”–meaning they are the U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents.

Put simply, about one in five children under 18 are Latino and about half of them are “second generation.”  The following chart graphically illustrates the point:

Second generation Hispanics

Historically, most members of ethnic gangs are drawn from the second generation.  This was true of Irish, German, Jewish, and other ethnic gangs in the early 20th Century.  And contrary to conventional “wisdom,” this is also true of Latino gangs.  Lou Dobbs, Patrick Buchanan, and Nativists of their ilk do their best in the echo chamber of “news entertainment” to perpetuate the myth that the Latino gang problem is imported, and that most Latino gangsters are “illegal immigrants.”  Certainly, depending on the gang’s location, many gangsters are indeed immigrants, legal and otherwise, and in some locations may make up the bulk of a “clica” or clique.

But the vast bulk of Latino gangster by every serious and objective study are the children of immigrants.

Hans, Franz, and the Younger Governator--"Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later"

Hans, Franz, and the Younger Governator--"Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later"

“Hear me now and believe me later.”   This is the pool from which future Latino gang members are going to be drawn.  About ten percent of these children will slip into the darkness of gangs, propelled by the forces of “marginalization,” which include prominently lack of gainful employment.

Which brings us back to Herbert’s perceptive clarion call.

The Youth Employment Picture

Herbert’s data come from The Great Recession of 2007-2009: Its Post-World War II Record Impacts on Rising Unemployment and Underutilization Problems Among U.S. Workers, a recently-released study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.  (Full study in pdf here.)  This is a chart from the study showing comparative “labor underutilization rates” — a broader measure than just the unemployed which captures such people as those who are not fully employed or not looking because “what’s the point?” — by ethnicity:

Unemployment by ethnicity

You can see that Hispanics and Blacks generally are neck and neck in this broader measure of the Great American Nightmare.  Now take a look at the youth rates in this chart showing underutilization by age groups:

Unemployment by age

(Ignore the partial sentence.  I couldn’t figure out a way to erase it.)

Net assessment?  The Latino gang problem is going to get worse before it gets better.  The best we can hope for is for the success of the continuing federal-led effort to break up gang leadership structures and prevent the emergence of a true Latino Mafia.

  1. […] Meyerson’s analysis in the Washington Post examines a particular facet of the dismal employment picture described in The New York Times column by Bob Herbert that I linked to in a posting yesterday (here). […]

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