Research Reports

The Emerging Latino Middle Class

Gregory Rodriguez


This report examines the extent to which Latinos in Southern California have begun creating a stable middle class. It reevaluates the social mobility of a group that has been, more often than not, defined by its deficits or dysfunctions. The statistics herein provide the first portrait of this dynamic but still largely unrecognized sector of Southern California society. The data, derived primarily from the 1980 and 1990 U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS), reveal the existence of a substantial and steadily growing Latino middle class in the five-county Southern California region. 1

Viewed as a group, the Latino middle class constitutes a largely young, hard-working, family-oriented population, increasingly adaptive to the changing economic conditions of Southern California. It is composed of two sectors–the U.S.-born and foreign-born–which, although distinct, nonetheless share many primary values and behaviors. Now just more than half of all U.S.-born Latino households, the U.S.-born Latino middle class is rapidly achieving near parity with the overall Southern California population. They enjoy improving education levels and show definite signs of increasingly successful integration into Southern California's burgeoning white-collar economy. Comprising almost a third of foreign-born Latino households, the more nascent foreign-born Latino middle class has only recently begun to create a toehold in Southern California's economic landscape. Yet if they follow the patterns of their native-born counterparts, they, and most importantly, their children, can also be expected to achieve even more considerable growth in the current decade.

Critically, the data suggest considerable social mobility among both U.S.-born and foreign-born Latinos. The longer immigrant families reside in the U.S., the more likely they are to become middle class. U.S.-born children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants fare considerably better than the immigrant generation.