Poor English Skills Cost Latinos $38 Billion in Missed Wages Annually

by Christopher Paslay

More needs to be done to break Latinos from the vicious cycle of linguistic isolation.

Remember the late great Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s Steaks,  and his infamous Speak English sign?  Well, a newly released study from the Lexington Institute shows that the inability to speak proper English is keeping Latinos from more than just South Philly Cheesesteaks:

Spanish-speaking Americans with poor English skills miss out on $38 billion in earnings each year, according to a new study by the Lexington Institute.

“The latest Census results show that we are seeing poor English skills passing down from one generation to the next, with Spanish speakers paying the heaviest price in economic terms,” said Don Soifer, Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute and one of the authors of the study, The Value of English Proficiency to the United States Economy. “We need to do better at breaking these cycles of linguistic isolation.”

On average, each adult with poor English skills earns $3,000 per year less than he would have earned as a proficient English speaker. By comparison, the wage penalty facing Latinos who do not earn a high school diploma is $4,700.

The population of English learners in the United States has grown substantially in recent decades, to over 25 million, according to the 2010 Census. More than five million of these English learners are currently attending U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Only one in four is foreign-born — the rest are second- or third-generation Americans.

“When it comes to closing the language gap between English learners and other students, we are seeing widely varying results nationally, with small gains,” Soifer noted.

The report, The Value of English Proficiency to the United States Economy, is available online here.

States With Large English Learner Populations, 2010


LEP Population Percent Share





New York


New Jersey













Source: 2010 American Community Survey, Table B16001, “Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over”

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