NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Impact Of "Official English" Laws On Incomes

February 26, 1999

Men who don't speak English well earn less than those who do in states which have made English their official language, according to a study by economist Madeline Zavodny of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Although the laws apply to government offices only, some employers in those states may be adopting English-only speech policies in the workplace, researchers speculate.

Curiously, the impact of official English laws on women's wages wasn't shown to be statistically significant.

  • So far, 25 states have adopted official English laws.
  • Male workers who aren't fluent in English made 9.3 percent less in those states than their counterparts did in states without such laws.
  • Hispanic men who speak English poorly made about 10.3 percent less than fluent speakers.
  • The gap between the inflation-adjusted earnings of workers who speak English poorly and those who speak it well widened after states adopted official English legislation.

In 1979, in states which later passed such laws, workers who spoke English fluently were earning 81 percent more than those who spoke it poorly. By 1989, after the laws had taken effect, fluent English-speakers were making 113 percent more.

In 1979, in states that didn't adopt such laws, fluent English- speakers earned 79 percent more than poor English-speakers. By 1989, fluent speakers were earning 90.9 percent more.

Source: Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, "Wage Gap Widens in 'English Only' States," Wall Street Journal, February 16, 1999.


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