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Study Finds Big Jump in Non-English Speaking Workers in Austin

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Photo by KUT
Non-English speakers accounted for one fourth of all workers in the Austin construction industry, according to a Brookings Institution survey.

A study from the Brookings Institution released this week shows an increase in Austin area citizens that have limited proficiency in English. Just over 11 percent of people in the Austin-Round Rock area are among the so-called “limited English proficient” (LEP) population.

The survey showed a 40 percent increase in that population from 2000 to 2012, which totaled 142,338.

That population accounts for just over a quarter of the workforce in the area’s construction industry, earning a median income of $24,000. In addition, nearly 83 percent of those listed Spanish as their first language, and half were recent immigrants.

The study identified 89 of the most populous U.S. metro areas and ranking them for the size and share of its Limited English Proficiency (LEP) population and the growth or decline of this population since 2000.

The study found growth of populations in all 89 cities, with the Miami metro area being the only city in the top ten outside of Texas or California.

Senior Research Analyst at the Brookings Institution Jill Watson wrote the report, and says increases in the LEP population could represent a loss of productivity, resulting in lower wages and tax revenues.

Wilson says Texas’ funding for English instruction has stagnated as the LEP population has increased. Programs like Accelerate Texas, she says, have integrated career and technical training with adult education. Wilson believes this is key in bringing the percentage of a state’s LEP population down.

“Instead of the traditional model of students first having to learn English and then be able to take classes in vocational training, this integrates the two,” says Wilson. “Students are able to move through it faster and graduate with both a GED and a work training certificate.”

Online websites and mobile apps, Wilson says, have also given people more access to English instruction.

McAllen and El Paso rank first and second, respectively, for the highest percentage of working age adults whose proficiency in English is limited. Austin ranks twenty-fifth.

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