Census: More Hispanics in USA fluent in English
USA Today
Dec. 9, 2008

 

By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

More Spanish speakers are speaking English very well despite a steady influx of immigrants this decade a sign that they are blending in at least linguistically, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Census data released Tuesday.

The drop in the percentage who struggle with English is most noticeable in some of the largest counties and cities that have attracted immigrants for decades.

In Los Angeles County, the percentage of the Spanish-speaking population that has trouble with English slid from 21% in 2000 to 19.6% in 2005-07, the three years measured in the data released today. In El Paso, the share dropped from 32% to 28.5%.

In many places, the share has not increased despite growth in immigration: Pima County, Ariz., which includes Tucson, at 8.4%; Atlanta's Fulton County at 4.1%.

In many new destinations for Hispanics, however, the inability to speak English fluently is a growing challenge. In some smaller counties in Colorado, South Carolina and some other states, the number of Hispanics who say they don't speak English "very well" has risen.

In Prince William County, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the share more than doubled to 9.3% or almost 30,000 people.

In Oregon's Clackamas County, southeast of Portland, about 5,000 more people who speak Spanish don't speak English "very well." They total more than 11,000 or about 3% of the population.

The new American Community Survey offers the first detailed demographic profile since the 2000 Census of places with as few as 20,000 people.

When people respond to the Census survey by saying they speak English "very well," it means they're fluent. Anything less means that people often can't read bank statements, rental agreements and warning labels and have difficulty communicating with a doctor or police officer, linguists and demographers say.

Homeownership and naturalization are more important gauges of assimilation than English fluency but language is the most visible, says Dowell Myers, demographer at the University of Southern California. "What affects people the most is the language around them. It's the most symbolic a real flashpoint."

In Greenville County, S.C., the number of Hispanics who don't speak English fluently doubled to more than 14,000 3.7% of the population this decade. The county provides interpreters for hospitals, welfare offices and jails, says Lottie Gibson, a member of the Greenville County Council.

"The faces of Greenville are changing," Gibson says. "They need to be able to speak English. It's frustrating to a lot of people to go into restaurants and have them not understand what you have to say."

Winnebago County, an industrial hub 90 miles west of Chicago, had a surge of mostly Mexican immigrants this decade. The share who are not fluent in English jumped from 2.8% to 4.4% almost 5,000 people.

"It's been difficult to absorb," says Patricia Gomez, executive director of La Voz Latina, a non-profit group that offers social services to immigrants. The day and evening English classes the group offers in conjunction with community colleges are full.

"English fluency is essential for new immigrants but the adults often struggle," she says. "Sometimes we're too impatient for new immigrants to learn English. Fifty or 100 years ago, it was understood that the first generation would not be speaking English."

Many smaller counties are experiencing more growth in their foreign-born populations than large cities.

"It's clear that the foreign-born are dispersing into smaller places," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the data. "It's pretty widespread and it's pretty dramatic."

New immigrants are almost as likely to go to the suburbs and beyond as they are to cities, he says. "It's something that we didn't see in the '90s."

The data also show that poverty rates in midsize counties, small towns and rural areas are greater than in larger places, according to an analysis by Mark Mather, demographer at the Population Reference Bureau.

Poverty rates from 2005 through 2007 were highest among children, especially those in less-populated areas: 23% of children in small counties were poor, compared with 18% in large counties.

The gap between children and seniors is widening, he says. Social Security and Medicare have helped keep more seniors out of poverty. The data don't capture the impact of the current recession.

"Families with children have not fared as well and could see even higher poverty rates in the future," Mather says.

English a challenge

The share and number of people 5 and older in the USA's 150 most populous cities who say they speak Spanish at home and who speak English less than "very well." (Other survey choices: "well," "not well" and "not at all.")

 

City

% 2005-07

Number 2005-07

New York

11.8

905,320

Los Angeles

23.3

815,954

Chicago

12.5

315,755

Houston

21.7

403,613

Phoenix

18.1

236,891

Philadelphia

3.7

49,845

San Antonio

14.0

162,388

San Diego

10.4

122,643

Dallas

23.0

248,234

San Jose

11.8

98,187

Detroit

3.4

26,390

Jacksonville

2.0

14,891

San Francisco

5.7

40,821

Columbus (Ohio)

2.0

13,019

Austin

12.8

85,064

Memphis

3.2

19,106

Charlotte

5.8

34,428

Fort Worth

14.3

82,678

Baltimore

1.4

8,434

Milwaukee

6.7

35,847

El Paso

27.0

144,754

Boston

7.1

40,325

Nashville-Davidson

3.9

21,330

Washington, D.C.

3.5

19,499

Seattle

2.7

14,309

Denver

13.1

68,781

Louisville-Jefferson

1.6

8,156

Las Vegas

13.0

66,780

Portland, Ore.

3.7

18,529

Oklahoma City

6.4

31,573

Tucson , Ariz.

11.5

55,487

Albuquerque, N.M.

7.9

37,029

Atlanta

3.0

12,122

Long Beach

16.7

71,743

Fresno

12.5

53,611

Sacramento

8.7

36,195

Mesa, Ariz.

13.0

57,045

Kansas City, Mo.

3.7

14,942

Cleveland

2.9

11,094

Virginia Beach

1.3

5,120

Omaha

5.1

17,800

Miami

43.2

141,880

Oakland

12.7

43,863

Tulsa, Okla.

5.5

19,612

Honolulu

0.3

950

Colorado Springs

3.6

13,033

Minneapolis

5.7

19,269

Arlington, Texas

11.4

37,098

Raleigh, N.C.

4.9

15,631

Wichita, Kansas

4.0

13,286

St. Louis

1.2

3,888

Santa Ana, Calif.

46.2

138,505

Tampa

8.3

25,296

Anaheim

23.4

72,173

Cincinnati

0.8

2,275

Pittsburgh

0.6

1,659

Bakersfield, Calif.

12.1

34,118

Aurora, Colo.

14.3

38,813

Toledo, Ohio

1.1

2,850

Riverside, Calif.

17.1

48,142

Stockton, Calif.

12.5

33,024

Corpus Christi, Texas

11.0

28,911

Anchorage

2.0

5,026

Newark

15.3

37,314

St. Paul

3.5

8,821

Lexington-Fayette, Ky.

2.9

7,414

Buffalo

2.2

5,494

Plano, Texas

6.2

14,789

Fort Wayne, Ind.

2.7

6,133

Glendale, Ariz.

13.8

30,005

St. Petersburg, Fla.

1.6

3,541

Lincoln, Neb.

2.0

4,523

Greensboro, N.C.

3.3

7,371

Chandler, Ariz.

6.2

13,428

Jersey City

10.9

23,898

Henderson, Nev.

2.0

4,503

Norfolk, Va.

0.9

2,022

Scottsdale, Ariz.

3.2

6,519

Birmingham, Ala.

2.0

4,124

Baton Rouge, La.

0.8

1,759

Madison, Wisc.

2.2

4,514

Orlando, Fla.

7.9

15,871

Chesapeake, Va.

0.8

1,610

Garland, Texas

18.2

38,676

Lubbock, Texas

4.3

8,470

Chula Vista, Calif.

17.7

35,923

Durham, N.C.

8.7

16,682

Laredo , Texas

48.2

89,519

Winston-Salem, N.C.

7.6

15,017

Reno, Nev.

9.2

18,005

New Orleans

1.9

5,288

Akron, Ohio

0.5

843

Rochester, N.Y.

3.7

6,977

Modesto, Calif.

8.4

15,658

Montgomery, Ala.

0.9

1,663

Arlington Va.

7.4

13,982

Fremont, Calif.

5.1

9,864

Shreveport, La.

0.6

1,062

Boise

2.3

4,394

San Bernardino, Calif.

22.2

41,852

Yonkers, N.Y.

9.4

17,119

Spokane, Wash.

0.5

870

Richmond, Va.

2.1

3,853

Glendale, Calif.

6.4

11,805

North Las Vegas, Nev.

18.7

31,617

Gilbert, Ariz.

2.7

4,524

Des Moines, Iowa

4.8

8,762

Tacoma, Wash.

3.3

5,948

Irving, Texas

21.3

41,572

Grand Rapids, Mich.

8.6

15,317

Huntington Beach, Calif.

5.5

9,885

Irvine, Calif.

1.2

2,187

Augusta-Richmond, Ga.

0.6

1,126

Mobile, Ala.

0.7

1,274

Columbus, Ga.

1.5

2,601

Little Rock, Ark.

2.8

4,931

Amarillo, Texas

6.6

11,265

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

5.2

8,080

Oxnard, Calif.

30.9

50,372

Knoxville, Tenn.

1.1

1,813

Moreno Valley, Calif.

18.0

29,531

Fontana, Calif.

27.8

46,650

Salt Lake City

9.8

16,438

Newport News, Va.

1.5

2,396

Jackson, Miss.

0.7

1,078

Worcester, Mass.

9.7

15,164

Providence

18.2

28,651

Fayetteville, N.C.

1.2

2,008

Ontario, Calif.

23.7

35,198

Santa Clarita, Calif.

9.6

15,965

Tempe, Ariz.

8.1

12,882

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

3.9

5,728

Aurora, Ill.

20.2

31,987

Chattanooga, Tenn.

1.4

2,061

Huntsville, Ala.

1.3

2,071

Tallahassee

1.1

1,741

Overland Park, Kansas

1.5

2,314

Oceanside, Calif.

15.0

23,106

Garden Grove, Calif.

17.8

27,967

Vancouver, Wash.

3.0

4,438

Dayton, Ohio

1.0

1,393

Rockford, Ill.

6.9

9,378

Springfield, Mo.

0.8

1,187

Grand Prairie, Texas

13.8

19,437

Pomona, Calif.

29.4

41,358

Santa Rosa, Calif.

10.7

14,891

Cape Coral, Fla.

7.1

9,472

Springfield, Mass.

10.4

14,280

Salem, Ore.

9.9

13,696

Pembroke Pines, Fla.

12.0

17,777

Sources: Census Bureau, USA TODAY analysis by Paul Overberg