Limited-English Speakers on the Rise in U.S.

PHOTO: The number of people in the United States who speak limited English increased between 1990 and 2011.

Petko Danov/Getty Images

The sheer number of people in the United States who speak limited English - more than 25 million in 2011 - is up by more than 80 percent since 1990, according to a study out this month from the Migration Policy Institute.

That might sound like a huge increase, but when you look at it in context, it's less pronounced. Those who speak limited English made up just 9 percent of the total population in 2011, up slightly from 6 percent in 1990.

Most people who fall into the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) category are Spanish-speaking adults, and most live in California, Texas and New York. LEP refers to someone over the age of five who reported speaking English less than "very well."

That means many people in that category speak at least some English.

As a group, they are more likely to live below the poverty line and to be less educated than other residents. That being said, a higher percentage of LEP men than those who speak English fluently were engaged in the labor force in 2011. Almost all lived in urban areas. Many men worked in construction and extraction, while women were more likely to have personal care jobs like caring for the elderly in assisted living facilities.

Only about half the immigrant population in 2011 fell into the LEP category. The other half speak English fluently. And a fifth of the people in this country who speak just limited English were actually born in the U.S.

Just a small percentage, 9 percent, of people with limited English were kids between 5 and 15 in 2011.

Nearly three-quarters of those children were born in the U.S. but lived in a household where another language, usually Spanish, was spoken.

Take a look at this map from the Migration Policy Institute for a deeper dive.


Viewing America’s population through the lens of diversity, we will cover the social, cultural and political impact of various racial and ethnic groups in this country.

comments powered by Disqus

Immigration Reform

Menendez Calls for Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform, Menendez Said, Should Be a Pathway to Eventual Citizenship