When I referenced my UC Davis colleague, economist Giovanni Peri, last week, I didn’t realize I’d be discussing another one this week, Gregory Clark. I don’t know Professor Clark, but I’ve certainly admired him for the highly successful, semi-technical/semi-popular, books he’s written. See a self-synopsis of one of them in this New York Times op-ed. He is definitely an out-of-the-box thinker.
But now Clark has (seemingly, though not actually) brought race into his writings, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, titled “The American Dream Is an Illusion: Immigration and Inequality.” I say “seemingly” here, because what he is really writing about is socioecnomic class, not race per se. He presents data showing that descendents of Latino immigrants are NOT upwardly mobile in education, in contrast to other immigrant groups. Many other groups have arrived in the U.S. poor, he says, but have had the ambition, the educational values and so on to do well, if not in the first generation then surely the second. In the words of a stuck-up rich British character one often sees in movies, Clark is saying that we’re bringing in “the wrong kind” of people. He seems to be hinting that the nation should think more carefully on the topic of unauthorized immigration.
I don’t like Clark’s message. It’s not that I am denying the validity of Clark’s numbers. On the contrary, a few years ago, a prominent liberal writer who has worked professionally in the Latino community startled me by telling me of a similar statistical analysis he’d done.
But what Clark is missing, I believe, is that Latino upward mobility could be greatly improved if the schools devoted resources to it. The irony is that that is not going to happen, precisely because of the larger-than-manageable level of immigration that we have, both legal and unauthorized. As many studies have shown, the first victims of too large an influx are the most vulnerable people in our society, many of them earlier immigrants. It’s a shame that Emma Lazarus poem on our Statue of Liberty says famously, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses,” but sadly it doesn’t promise to give those huddled masses a fighting chance after they get here.