More than 19 million people living within the United States are not fluent in the English language, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution. That translates to one out of every ten people. While stores such as Wal-Mart and even campaign ads such as those coming from Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), cater to Spanish speakers, the study suggest feeding this improficiency could hurt economic growth.
English proficiency is a strong predictor of economic standing among immigrants regardless of educational attainment. Numerous studies have shown that immigrants who are proficient in English earn more than those who lack proficiency, with higher skilled immigrants reaping the greatest advantage.
Conversely, high-skilled immigrants who are not proficient in English are twice as likely to work in “unskilled” jobs (i.e. those requiring low levels of education or training) as those who are proficient in English. This underemployment represents a loss of productivity that yields lower wages for individuals and families and lower tax revenues and consumer spending for local areas. LEP immigrants also have higher rates of unemployment and poverty than their English proficient counterparts.
Moreover, higher proficiency in English among immigrants is associated with the greater academic and economic success of their children. English skills also contribute to immigrants’ civic involvement and social connection to their new home.
Individuals without English proficiency earn an average of 25 to 40 percent less than their more acclimated counterparts, according to the report.
Jill H. Wilson, Brookings senior research analyst and associate fellow, even went so far as to assert that:
“English proficiency is the most essential means of opening doors to economic opportunity for immigrant workers in the United States.”
If these claims are true, pandering to the language deficiency is not only harming the economic growth of the United States, it is abating the so-called ‘opportunity gap’ between immigrants and natives of this country.