Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Jill H. Wilson
Date of Publication: 
September, 2014
Source Organization: 
Brookings Institution

In this report, author Jill H. Wilson utilizes 2012 American Community Survey data to examine the Limited English Proficient (LEP) population in the U.S. and the metropolitan areas where they reside.

Numbering nearly one in 10 of working-age adults (19.2 million people between the ages of 16 and 64), LEP individuals earn 25 to 40 percent less than their English-proficient counterparts.  Although LEP individuals tend to live in large metropolitan areas, their numbers are growing faster in smaller metro areas.  The report provides detailed analyses of the LEP population by metro area, including information on levels of education, poverty rates, median annual earnings, home languages, and occupations. She notes, for example, that two-thirds of working-age LEP adults are concentrated in just six industries, with accommodations and food services attracting the highest percentage.  Despite the growth in the size of the LEP population, there has been a decline in federal and state funding of English for Speakers of Other Languages programs. As the LEP population is going to play a significant role in U.S. economic growth over the next four decades, Wilson suggests closing this gap.  One way would be to implement a more equitable distribution of Workforce Investment Act funding to support English instruction, i.e. counting all LEP individuals in determining the funding formula for states rather than just the 40 percent without a high school diploma. She also calls for innovations in instructional approaches, such as worksite classes and online and mobile technology to increase access to English learning opportunities. (Robert Smith for The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.'s Public Education Institute)

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Wilson, J. H. (2014). Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas. The Brookings Institution. Washington: DC. Available at: