by James A. Bacon
WalletHub strikes again, this time compiling an ingenious set of statistics to measure Hispanic assimilation in American culture. One surprising finding (surprising to me, at least) is that Virginia ranks 8th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in the degree to which Hispanics are assimilated, as gauged by a mix of cultural, educational and economic metrics.
Virginia stands out for the “economic” assimilation of Hispanics, ranking No. 2 in the country. WalletHub measures economic assimilation by earned income, labor force participation, unemployment and poverty rates, and home and business ownership rates.
The Old Dominion ranks 17th nationally by cultural and civic affiliation, which reflects English language proficiency, the percentage of foreign-born Hispanics who are naturalized citizens, veteran status, and voter engagement.
But the state ranks only 23rd nationally for educational assimilation, a ranking that incorporates the percentage of Hispanics who graduated from high school and college, NAEP scores, ACT scores and SAT scores.
Vermont has the highest overall assimilation ranking in the country, and West Virginia the second highest. In Vermont, Hispanics comprised only 1.6% of the population in 2012, and only 1.3% in West Virginia. So, I wondered, was the assimilation rate mainly a function of the Hispanic percentage of the population? It stands to reason that the pressures to assimilate are much higher in communities where Hispanics are a tiny minority than where they can form their own communities and preserve their culture.
So, I ran a correlation analysis of each state’s WalletHub rank with the percentage of Hispanics in each state’s population. I was surprised to see how weak the correlation was:
The R² is only 0.0933, meaning that less than 10% of the variation in assimilation by state can be explained by the size of the Hispanic population within that state. For what it’s worth, Virginia (the red diamond) has a much better rank (closer to 1) than would be predicted by the percentage of Hispanics in its population. But other variables are probably far more important.
One variable worth exploring would be country of origin. Florida ranks high in Hispanic assimilation (6th highest in the country) even though Hispanics accounted 23% of the population in 2012. That probably can be explained by the large number of Cubans, many of whom were educated when they emigrated to the United States. Similarly, Puerto Ricans emigrating to the United States have a different profile than Mexicans, Central Americans, Brazilians and Venezuelans.
Another possibility is the diversity of countries of origins. In California, for example, the Hispanic population is largely Mexican. Mexicans in the Golden State bond with one another and form culture-perpetuating communities more easily than can, say, a mix of Cubans, Brazilians and Ecuadorans.
Of course, my operating assumption is that assimilation is a good thing. I want to see Hispanics (well, the ones who came here legally) move into the cultural, economic and political mainstream. Not everyone shares that goal. Some Hispanics are militant about preserving their cultural identity, as is their right. Also, the ideology of “cultural diversity” looks upon assimilation as a form of cultural imperialism. Some people want to keep Americans divided by race and ethnicity for the purpose of political exploitation.
However it happened, Hispanics appear to be assimilating reasonably well in Virginia.