Hispanics don't earn as much as whites in Bellingham and other parts of Whatcom County, except in Ferndale, where the incomes of white and Hispanic households are statistically the same. Overall, a typical Ferndale household makes more money than one in Bellingham, but Bellingham residents are better educated.
The U.S. Census Bureau released its most-thorough American Community Survey last week, the only such survey that sheds some statistical light on smaller communities such as Ferndale, Lynden, Blaine and Sumas.
Interviews conducted over five years, from 2007 to 2011, yielded estimates of income, education, commuting habits and family size, among many other demographic details.
The highest median annual household income in the county was on Lummi Island, at $73,068. That number has a large margin of error due to the island's small population, making it statistically similar to Ferndale, second highest at $60,934.
Bellingham had the lowest household income, $46,185 - although it was statistically no different than the sparsely populated east Whatcom census division, which includes Acme, Deming, Maple Falls and Glacier.
The Bellingham and Ferndale census divisions include the cities themselves and the rural areas surrounding them.
Ferndale's Hispanic households were faring well economically, according to the American Community Survey. The income of Hispanic households in Ferndale, $63,177, was in a statistical tie with non-Hispanic whites at $60,455.
The proportion of the city's Hispanic population, 10.2 percent, was second only to Lynden among census districts in the county.
In Bellingham, white households made $48,496, compared to Hispanics at $36,226.
The apparent success of Hispanic households in Ferndale initially surprised Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, an advocacy group in Bellingham that works on immigration and food-justice issues. But it occurred to her that a recent hiring boom could account for the success.
"Over the last three to four years there has been an increase in Border Patrol agents in Whatcom County," she said. "A lot of these Border Patrol agents are Latinos that are coming in from the southern border."
Many Latinos working lower-paying service jobs live in Bellingham, where such jobs can be found, Guillen said.
The statistics on education tell a different story. Bellingham was significantly better educated than Ferndale and the state as a whole. The proportion of Bellingham residents 25 or older with at least a high school diploma was 93.8 percent, with 39.8 percent of residents having at least a bachelor's degree. The state numbers were 89.8 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively.
In Ferndale, 89.7 percent of residents had completed high school or the equivalent and 26.4 percent had at least a bachelor's degree.
In an apparent contradiction to the income parity in Ferndale, there was a wide education gap between Hispanics and whites there. More than 93 percent of Ferndale whites had at least a high school diploma, compared to barely 60 percent of Hispanics.
What explains the disconnect between income and education? It's hard to know exactly what's behind such statistics, but Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen said he has a theory.
A few major employers near Ferndale have been adding high-paid employees the past several years - not just the Border Patrol, but also Alcoa Intalco Works and BP Cherry Point Refinery.
"We caught that wave," Jensen said. "We had people that had really stable jobs moving in, and they picked Ferndale just because of its location, and there was available housing."
Hispanic education levels haven't caught up to the recent influx of well-paid workers, but there are signs that they could, said Jensen, whose wife teaches kindergarten in Ferndale. His wife has told him that some of her most involved parents are Hispanic.
As the mayor put it, "They say, 'OK, our income is rising but we need to make that next level of having our children more educated. So we're going to be super-involved, starting in kindergarten.'"
When it comes to education inequality for Hispanics, Guillen said Ferndale is like every other community in the state.
"The education levels, the graduation levels especially, out of high school, are just really low," she said. "They're lower and consistently so all across the board, everywhere."
Guillen confirmed that Latino parents are highly involved in their children's elementary education. But parents, many of them working more than one job, must figure out how to maintain that commitment, she said.
"How do you continue to stay involved through middle school?" Guillen asked. "That's where we lose them, or not."
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