Two Kinds of Migrants and the “Cultural Generation Gap”

By Al Giordano

A new report out of the Brookings Institution offers a thought provoking theory that could explain recent freak phenomena like Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and the conservative tea baggers: a widening “cultural generation gap” in certain regions of the US.

The math is simple enough: compare the percentage of senior citizens (age 65 and over) in a given state or metropolitan area who are non-Hispanic white with the percentage of their neighbors who are 18 and under and non-Hispanic white, and, voila, let’s look at what part of the nation has the widest “cultural generation gap.”

Arizona tops the charts, with 83 percent of its seniors Caucasian but just 43 percent of its minors in the same racial demographic: a gap of 40 points.

Brookings writes:

Demographically, there is no doubt Latinos and other immigrant minorities are America’s future, and on this, Arizona stands on the front lines. Over the past two decades the state has seen its Latino population grow by 180 percent as its racial composition shifted from 72 to 58 percent white.

Yet there is an important demographic nuance to this growth—providing context to the white backlash in Arizona in ways that could play out elsewhere. It is the fact that the state’s swift Hispanic growth has been concentrated in young adults and children, creating a “cultural generation gap” with largely white baby boomers and older populations, the same demographic that predominates in the recent Tea Party protests.

And so what we have here is a kind of cocktail of racial tensions mixed with generational differences (which, although the Brookings study doesn’t come out and say it, I would posit retards societal integration since old folks don’t typically hang out or even cross paths with young ones; both groups tend to avoid the other even within the same racial or other demographic categories).

And here is something else to consider: In the warmer climes of the United States, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other newcomers to the US aren’t the only new wave of immigrants. The exodus of northern retirees that began decades ago to Florida and Southern California has widened into a wave of elderly immigrants to key metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest. The Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area, being one of them, for example, has the highest cultural generation gap in the country, of 41 points. That’s not only because Mexican-Americans are moving in, but also it is a result of the geezer brigades.

The seniors, of course, come government-supported with Social Security checks, Medicare and lots of other socialized goodies. They move into gated communities with access to cheap “illegal” labor to water the lawns and care for them in every other way possible. Many in fact come to border lands precisely so they can cross into Mexico easily to purchase their pharmaceuticals at bargain prices. But despite all the benefits they receive exactly because they move to the lands of immigrants, these older white populations are hotbeds of hostility against the immigrants, which is how we got to the place where Arizona’s anti-immigrant law has now exacerbated racial and other tensions.

The metropolitan areas with the largest cultural generation gap happen to coincide with clusters of Republican voting patterns and tea party activity: The Tucson, Arizona metro area joins Phoenix among the top three cultural generation gap zones. Certain California metropolitan areas are high on the list: Riverside-San Bernardino, Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, Stockton and San Diego are in the top ten. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, join them there. Here’s the list of the top twenty:

I think Brookings is onto something big here. Generational apartheid is exacerbating racial segregation and discrimination. And this underscores, among other things, that for political movements to succeed they have to be multi-generational and multi-racial, and very intentionally cross over another kind of border fence called demographics.

The situation created by these cultural generation gap clusters also presents a challenge for the so-called “baby boomers” (officially, Americans born between 1946 and 1964) who were, according to the hype when they were young, going to be the pioneering generation of peace, love, “the Age of Aquarius” and all that granola. Starting next year, the oldest of them turn 65 and join the ranks of the retirees. And that’s when another process will begin that will determine the boomers’ place in history: whether it really is a transformational generation, or one that merely replicates the sins of the fathers it rebelled against when young.

Many of the teabaggers, in fact, are boomers. They’re a small percentage of them but it is nonetheless cause for pause that they exist, because they represent the worst-case scenario of where the boomers could end up politically: From parent supported suburban youths to government supported suburban seniors, the danger is that, in their twilight years, they become their parents all over again.

Which is precisely why a responsibility is on the shoulders of every boomer of conscience to break that cycle both in daily life and in political participation; to embrace his and her generation’s best legacy of community organizing, racial tolerance and integration and all the other qualities they championed in their youth.

The coming national debate over immigration reform, I think, is where we will begin to see whether “the sixties generation” walks its talk, head held high, into the retirement years. If not, it will become one of the biggest jokes in history because it began as the most hyped (and privileged) generation ever. But if, as polls suggest, it understands that there is little moral high ground to be claimed by seniors who migrate to live their retirement years and immigrants who migrate to the same places to live their working years, Comprehensive Immigration Reform can accomplish at least two giant leaps forward for the United States.

First, a path to citizenship for twelve million undocumented Americans will bring them onto the voter rolls, creating a vital counter-weight to the cultural generation gap seniors in the very same states and Congressional Districts where the latter group now has the upper hand. It is the change that will cement the generational political change begun in 2008. The latest data is a game-changer: “68% of Latinos approve of Obama’s job (compared with 48% of overall respondents and 38% of whites), and they view the Democratic Party favorably by a 54%-21% score (versus 41%-40% among all adults and 34%-48% among whites)… And Latinos remain a sleeping -- yet growing -- political giant: 23% of them aren’t registered voters (compared with 12% of whites and 16% of blacks).”

And second – listen well, ye boomers – unless those twelve million undocumented Americans are brought out from the persecuted shadows and into the aboveground economy, there won’t be enough Social Security or funding for your health care or your drugs or anything else left when you hit retirement age. Contrary to urban legend, immigrants aren't a drain on the social services system, but elderly people are! When immigrants are brought in to the system, they also begin to pay in: an about to be badly needed net plus on the national budget.

Without them, your gated communities will fast become the new ghettoes, filled with the elderly poor suddenly without the same benefits their parents and grandparents had. And senior slums won’t be a pretty sight or happy places to live. Only with the new sweat equity of immigrants will retirees get to live out the American dream. Funny how that works, but it’s always been that way. Without immigrants, there can be no America at all.



If aging boomers drop the ball

they won't, alas, have been the first. Many of "the greatest generation" before them voted for Roosevelt in their youth, only to switch to Nixon and Reagan in old age (come to think of it, Ronnie himself was a Roosevelt man back in the day).

I also wonder how the statistics break down over retirees' income (a guess: those just getting by, and fearful of not doing so, are the most susceptible to the tea partiers' siren song).

Pig in the Python

The biggest year of the boom was 1957, when 4.3 million boomers were born.  For the 5-year period between 1956 and 1960, inclusive, 21.2 million boomers were born, nearly 1 1/2 times the number born between 1941 and 1945, and the largest for any 5-year period in the 20th century.

I am one of the group described above.  The leading edge of the boom has received the lion's share of the press and benefits on all things "Boomer".  I have 9 years before I am 62.  I expect nothing.

I told my kids that their Dad and I bought our retirement home a few years back.  It's a big tent with zip rooms for privacy.

Sun and Rain City!


Now THIS is interesting blogging

The peanut gallery, to be fair, must give credit where credit is due. THIS is interesting reporting.

Nice Job

 A much need analysis of the current trends. Thank you.

I know a few myself

I had neighbors who lived up the street from my house. They had a daughter two years my junior whom they had had relatively late in life. They watched me and my sister over the summer while my parents worked because the mother was an English teacher. I had her in high school and she wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation that no doubt helped my case with SUNY Albany(my GPA being rather mediocre.) They moved to Arizona a few years back, and I hear from my parents(both from the generation after the Boomers) tell me, disappointedly, how fervently they support the Republican agenda and the recent Arizona immigration bill. This divides us all, and I can only hope younger boomers will not fall into the trap of Tea Party rhetoric.

The political trajectory of boomers...

Al's quite right:  Retiring Boomers will determine whether the politics of this "cultural generation gap" turns toward more tolerance or more intolerance. I think there is cause for hope.  I was part of the first big, post-WWII year of boomer births, and graduated from college in the same year as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.  Those events, the civil rights revolution, and, more importantly, the war in Vietnam shifted my politics from those of a Republican family to a dissent-minded liberal -- a common shift in my age cohort, and I didn't later revert.  This shift was made easier precisely because our fathers had come home from World War II proud that they had defeated the Nazis and liberated subjugated peoples everywhere. Opposing the Vietnam War and embracing racial equality was our way to sustain that tradition of idealism.  It remains alive today.  I never cast a more enthusiastic vote than for Barack Obama.

To be sure, there were and are conservative Republicans in my generation, but in their most formative years, they all had to come to terms with a nation-changing movement for equal rights.  I can't vouch for the later baby boomers, but I predict that the first wave will tilt toward tolerance when, as retirees, some of them migrate to red states where the Hispanic population is higher.

tea baggers

Thanks for the information.  My hometown is listed at 8 on the list.  Four of the top ten listed are located in California's Central Valley.  I have been hearing Tea Bagger talking points my whole life in one form or another.  What is frightening is the spewing of Tea Bagger talking points from the children or grandchildren of immigrants imported into the Valley to work the fields.  The "I got mine you can suffer" vibe sucks.

Social Security

I wonder about a couple of things in Al's final two paragraphs.  First, are there any reasonsbly good numbers on how many undicumented immigrants don't pay Social Security taxes?  Anecdotally, I know a lot don't and a lot do.  Most of those who do pay the tax won't, absent a change in the law, get benefits so they're sort of like paying double.  Those who don't pay the tax will get little or nothing in benefits, so they're not a drag on the availability of funds.  But I have no sense of what the overall numbers are.

Second, I don't look at the "trust" fund as the sole source of benefits.  My attitude (is it only a hope?) is that the benefits are a government obligation that won't be taken away whether the fund runs down to zero or not.  The fund is a convenient way of financing the obligation, but, fund or no fund, the obligation remains and will, or should, be paid by the government.  Of course there remains the possibility that by the time the fund runs out (probably not less than 30 years from now) people will be so conditioned to accepting what they're told they'll, like sheep, just accept termination or reduction of benefits.  We're not Greece or France.

Mama Mia

I read this just after getting yet another anti-immigrant email from my Italian-American family in NY. I'm 48, my parents' generation is in their early-mid  70's.  Most of my cousins (I'm the oldest) go along with the politics of my parents' generation.  Here's a sample:

"From the L. A. Times
1. 40% of all workers in  L.   A.   County  ( L.   A.   County   has 10.2 million people) are working for cash and not paying taxes.
This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants working without a green card.
2.  95% of warrants for murder in   Los Angeles  are for illegal aliens.
3.  75% of people on the most wanted list in   Los Angeles  are illegal aliens. 
4. Over 2/3 of all births in  Los Angeles   County  are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal, whose births were paid for by taxpayers.
5. Nearly 35% of all inmates in   California  detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally.
6. Over 300,000 illegal aliens in   Los Angeles   County  are living in garages.
7.... The FBI reports half of all gang members in   Los Angeles  are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border.
8 Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal.
9 21 radio stations in L. A. are Spanish speaking.
10. In L.. A. County 5.1 million people speak English, 3.9 million speak Spanish.. (There are 10.2 million people in  L.   A.   County .)

(All 10 of the above facts were published in the Los Angeles Times)

Less than 2% of illegal aliens are picking our crops, but 29% are on welfare. Over 70% of the    United States ' annual population growth(and over 90% of   California ,   Florida , and   New York ) results from immigration. 29% of inmates in federal prisons are illegal aliens . 

We are fools for letting this continue."

OK, I know the LA Times is pretty right wing, and these numbers sound way off compared to my own anecdotal experience as a 20 year resident of California, and a church musician who's worked for Latino communities in Oregon, but I don't know how to respond.

I did once send a political cartoon from the early 20th century, depicting Italian Americans as dirty and dangerous anarchists and suffragettes and "wops" swimming to America's shore looking like cartoon rats off a ship, but the argument was made back to me that "We didn't get public assistance, and we learned English."  BTW, I'm pretty low income in the last few years, and the folks encourage me to apply for food stamps and any kind of assistance I might qualify for, and to try and get any work "off the books" that I can.  My dad and uncle were very active in their unions until their retirement, and it seems that might have given them some sympathy for the left or at least Democrats. And yes, they live in Florida for part of the year, though they don't vote there.

Al, from your writing it seems you're from a similar background (ethnically, not politically).  Do you have any thoughts on this particular generational/regional/ethnic phenomenon?

I guess I'm kinda venting.  I usually just delete these kind of emails from the family, but reading this post immediately afterward gave it an extra bite.  My parents' generation isn't the one you're talking about, and I'm just in the tail end of the boomers, so maybe my family sits astride that dividing line.  But I'm one of the few of my many cousins who doesn't go along with the elders' party line.

Did they feel so pressured to assimilate that they resent others who may resist that pressure?   The irony is that, when I've been a musician for Latino Masses, they are the ones that remind me the most of the church my family attended in Queens...

The Taxman Cometh


On your first question, here's what the Urban Institute, a respected research tank, has to say on the issue of undocumented immigrants and taxes:

Undocumented immigrants pay the same real estate taxes—whether they own homes or taxes are passed through to rents—and the same sales and other consumption taxes as everyone else. The majority of state and local costs of schooling and other services are funded by these taxes. Additionally, the U.S. Social Security Administration has estimated that three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, and that they contribute $6-7 billion in Social Security funds that they will be unable to claim (Porter 2005).

And on the second question, and this is based on my own opinion and understanding, the Social Security Trust Fund is in trouble because, over the years, politicians from both parties have used it as a slush fund to cover government obligations, including pork projects and our wars. So though it was intended to be a trust fund, it no longer operates as one.

We are essentially on a pay-as-you-go system with SS now, dependent on the people working to pay for retiree benefits in real time, if you will. Once the number of retirees exceeds the number of workers, in the sense of promised benefits exceeding payroll taxes, then we hit the wall.

In fact, a report in February from USA Today states that "Social Security took in only $3 billion more in taxes last year than it paid out in benefits — a $60 billion decline from 2008, according to federal data."

The reasons: wages went flat in 2009 due to the recession; there was a 20 percent jump in the number of retirees taking benefits; there was a 5.8 percent cost-of-living increase in benefits.

So a $3 billion cushion, to some, may sound like a lot, until you consider the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to bail out the banks. Social Security, if it were run right, would be the biggest bank [essentially a trust company] in the country. The cost of bailing it out, to me, is an unthinkable number. At best, we can maybe hope for another short-term fix, like the '83 deal that increased taxes and upped the retirement age.

So in that context, the only way to really save the system -- without taxing our kids to within an inch of their lives and making it nearly impossible for them to retire -- is to allow the workforce to expand to assure more taxes are going into the fund than are being drawn out by retirees and crooked, greedy or otherwise well-off politicians who really don't have to depend on Social Security in retirement. [OK, the last dig is a bit cynical, and some politicians do really care, maybe, but the truth is nearly all of them will never have to depend on the system.]



@Lorie: Generation Jones...I'm the same age as Obama too!

I wonder if the dynamics for the folks between the big boomers (up to say, 1958) and GenX (post-64) are a bit different. Clarence Page and others predicted that this group would be critical for Obama, and we did go for him big time (compared to the boomers).

And you're right -- we have gotten the short end of the advancement stick, and have fairly high unemployment right now (comparatively).

@ Norm W.

Norm - You are absolutely correct. I'm in that group and that's why I refer to the "boomers" as "they" and not "us." They were hippies. We were the first punks. They believed in altruistic slogans to mask their badness. We believed in badness (negation) to mask our goodness. We were the rebellion against their hypocrisies, the "no that made a thousand yeses possible," and the struggle continues...

Very insightful post, Al. 

Very insightful post, Al.  I think most rational thinking people recognize these connections, but the establishment--perhaps not coincidentally populated largely from 'the greatest generation'--choose not to spotlight them.  At their peril, I think.

How to Find Out?

How would someone find out the racial/ethnic makeup of the various age cohorts in your local area?


What is behind the trend

Your article raises very good points about the gap between older whites who live in communities with a large percentage of non-white younger people.  However, what is being experienced is a result of a depression for working people.  The sentiment among older people on fixed incomes has probably remained relatively unchanged.  What is driving the growing trend is that many out of work Americans have now found themselves competing directly with immigrants for jobs.  That is where the rising anti-immigrant sentiment is coming from, not retired whites who are not worried about their ability to survive financially.  I am afraid that without any serious effort from the political establishment to address jobs and living wages, ethnic divides, immigration status divides, etc, are only going to become worse.  The working poor will continue to be pitted against each other.

Raw Data


If you can work with Excel and cvs documents, go to the link below, and there's all the data you'll need. There's instructions as well. Check it out; it's your tax dollars at work. Of course, once the new Census data is in, all this will be much more current. For now, it's 2000 real figures and sampling estimates through July 1, 2008, after that 2000 field survey, as I understand it.

Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin for Counties: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008






Post Office Oppression

As a post office box holder in western Colorado, I was recently required to show two forms of I.D., (one pictured), to maintain my address. Any person receiving mail at my P.O. Box was also required to present papers to continue to receive mail at that address. No reason was given why now this policy other than they were updating their records. I have been receiving mail at this address since 1994 and until only recently, with a wave of retirements, have been on a first name basis with many of their employees. We strongly suspect that this may be immigration driven.

     I believe that Colorado, as well as other western "cowboy" states, were at the forefront of the racist anti marijuanna laws in the 1930's. Didn't that turn out well.  

Thought I might clear the

Thought I might clear the record a bit with regard to the "Times quote", it is a fiction.

Like all good con jobs it contains enough truth and relies on the people being conned wanting to believe the con.

Yes there is such a thing as illegal aliens, but the level of the problem is grossly exagerated by that quote. For instance in LA 62% of births are to hispanics but that gets raised to 2/3rds and all of them illegal aliens!



boomers, yuppies, punks

My first thought was that the boomers ('47 since you asked) are about the last demographic that respect that quiant theory called the rule of law.


My second thought is that most of us sold out and became the Yuppie scum that are now so affluent and amoral.  You know also that this is what created the angry young punks....the generation that had no illusions of a better tomorrow, just bleakness and the welfare state to protect them from the corporate takeover of everything.


Nicragua is still looking like a good retirement!  Daniel or no.

Interesting, but ignores some issues.

I would take exception with the analysis--the claims that it's old white people wanting to benefit from cheap illegal labor shows it to be a biased analysis from the outset. I think it also fails to properly analyze what that gap is and why it exists.

Essentially, your analysis is one based upon economic justification for a foreign invasion (an invasion may be armed, unarmed, voilent or non-violent, but it is an invasion nonetheless...just as any Native American) and as such, it's looking for the data to lend support to it. It's like the research that said those using Phen-Phen were at higher risk for particular cardio-pulmonary disease because a higher instance of it was found among those tested for something else being shown to have higher rates of a particular ailment. The proper thing to do would have been to study CP disease ridden patients on and off Phen-Phen before jumping to conclusions. This analysis is essentially the same thing.

You're making an analysis practically based on race alone, and a preconceived (and nearly racist) notion that old white people are next to modern day slave owners. I shouldn't be surprised, given the "comprehensive reform" catch-phrase of the left found in the post.

Where's the analysis on the increasing lack of cultural embrace by newer immigrants in light of growing global socialism agendas (openly stated by our own government as well as others), or of anti-Americanism, or the increased number of anti-American lobbies and revolutionary groups like the Brown Berets de Aztlan, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, Frente Amplio para la Construccion del Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional, and the EZLN? Perhaps older generations simply fight harder to protect America from un-American influence--they did defeat fascism in WWII, only to see President Obama trying to force it upon them now.

I could look at statistics which show a disproportiante number of whites serving in the military while other ethnic groups are underrepresented...should I argue then, that Hispanics and blacks are not as patriotic and thus it is typical of them to not want to assimilate or embrace American culture, follow our laws, support the US Constitution? It's a fact, after all--Whites and Native Americans are the only ethnic groups not underrepresented in relation to the percentages of the various ethnic groups as a whole when it comes to military service.

You had an interesting point...but you let bias and predjudice and bigotry and politics stymie it into generalized leftist propaganda (perhaps your intent all along) rather than pursuing it. There's only one America, only one Constitution. The notion that some particular ethnic group is the "future" of America just goes to show a bigoted slant to the whole thing which ignores a united nation, engenders division and is typical of the hypocritical race-baiting of the Democrats, liberals and progressives.

All those talking about "Tea Baggers" are themselves just as guilty of bigotry, racism, predjudice and anti-Americanism as those they like to point the finger at. When you can explain to me why so many immigrants flock to the USA to enjoy our way of life, freedoms, liberties and benefits...but fly Mexican flags, spit on and burn the American flag and then lack the spine to serve our nation even as they encourage more law breaking illegal immigration and spread of drug use and crime...then you will have a base from which to explore with intelligence the conflict between THAT view and that of American culture, values and ideals based upon and rooted in the philosophy and heritage of Western civilization, which founded this country.

Perhaps it's time to advance the theory that modern day immigrants love the benefits of America but simply want to bring their old cultures here and turn the USA into the exact thing they struggled so hard to get away from--and that they're a more cowardly lot to boot, unwilling and afraid to serve the nation from which they seek to benefit from? Here's what's happening--the same thing that has since the dawn of time, and which history bears out.

When citizenship is devalued and when nations do not defend their culture and preserve it, nations fail and fall. It's a story that's been around since the dawn of states, kingdoms and empires. The question that you ought to be asking and analyzing is: have we learned nothing since the dawn of history and are we going to keep making the same mistakes based upon ignorant notions of global socialism and forced multi-culturalism when all the evidence of history suggests it's a failure?

Purposely destroying culture and forcing upon others a new culture is wrong--ask any Native American. We saw what unchecked immigration did to the culture here before the USA. Should we then say to ourselves we've learned nothing and allow a repeat when we clearly KNOW the end result awaiting the end of that? Had Native Americans united there might have been a different story resulting than what did. They could not, would not, and did not. And here we have a free nation, imperfect, but constantly making progress in the light of freedom and new ideas. Now, we have those that want to throw it all out the window and cede everything to the whims of unchecked, anything-goes, willy-nilly open border nonsense.

From ancient Greece and Rome to modern day, history is a never-ending string of failed nations and migrations and more failed nations and constant change. Show me where devaluing citizenship, encouraging immigration to the point where the culture that brought a nation greatness is destroyed...yet has been beneficial? You can't. It doesn't exist. Yet, I can probably open any book on global history to a random page and find part of the story of failure based upon the devaluing of citizenship and culture.

You have interesting numbers. But the analysis falls short of making good use of them, and isolates them to suit your own views--or so it appears. Nice writing and nice job of blogging though. Despite my opinions contrary to yours, I enjoyed reading it and look forward to discovering what else you have to say. Even when disagreeing politically and socially, I find I can agree in the quality and act of writing. Words help define us as "the creative animal" which makes us all kindred in spite of appearances and thoughts. It's not our skin color nor our thumbs which make us special...and it's important to remember that using appearance to divide us does no credit to us as a species.

Boomer Generation always divided

One problem in any claim that the Boomers are hypocritical for turning against their former radicalism is that only a minority of that generation were ever radical, Check around and you will find that most of that radical minority are still progressive. The Boomer majority were little different from their parents in attitude and these are the ones involved in racist movements like the Tea baggers,

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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