Being Bilingual Helps Hispanics Raise Earnings

Those speaking only English lag, study finds

English may be the official language of Florida, but money also speaks Spanish, according to a study being released today.

The joint project from the University of Miami and the University of Florida says Hispanics from the Panhandle to the Keys who are fluent in Spanish and English earn more money than those who speak only English.

In Miami, the study found that fully bilingual Hispanics earn nearly $ 7,000 more per year than their monolingual colleagues.

Sandra Fradd, a co-author of the study, hopes it will encourage school districts to broaden their bilingual programs.

“If we’re asking students to give up other languages, to give up Spanish to learn English, we’re asking them to give up economic advantages,” Fradd said. “It seems that (bilingual education) is a topic on the level of fire and snakes. We would like to de-emotionalize it. We’re looking at … a more positive approach to dual language instruction.”

Fradd said she gathered her data from the 1990 census by comparing the salaries of bilingual Hispanics with those of Hispanics who speak only English.

Florida was the only state where she found a positive correlation between language and income, Fradd said. The study, commissioned by the state’s Department of Education, looked at income levels in 10 cities nationwide with high percentages of Hispanics.

She found that in Jersey City and San Antonio, bilingual Hispanics also earn more than those who only speak English. In California, however, bilingual Hispanics earned less than their monolingual counterparts.

Many states, including Florida, have passed amendments declaring English is the official language.

In 1988, Arizona lawmakers and voters approved the most far-reaching of any of 22 “official English” amendments. Under their amendment, no state or county government employee could speak any language other than English on the job and no government document was valid unless it was written in English.

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand an Arizona Supreme Court decision invalidating the English-only amendment.

In Florida, bilingual programs are not mandated throughout the state. It is up to each school district to implement bilingual programs.

“In the best of all worlds we would want American-born English-only speakers to have the benefits of a foreign language,” said Broward County School Board Vice Chairwoman Diana Wasserman-Rubin, a proponent of bilingual education.

She said programs should be implemented in elementary schools and continue through high school to ensure immigrant and native students master a language other than English. “But there is simply no money for it.”

The study was not a surprise to advocates of bilingual education such as Rosa SugraDnes, chairwoman of the Hispanic business group of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

For five years SugraDnes has championed the English Plus One initiative to encourage school administrators to broaden their bilingual programs. She said there are not enough bilingual employees to satisfy the demand in businesses.

“We want this not to be an immigration issue, but an issue of economic development,” SugraDnes said. “Our message is that we’re in a global economy. In the future everyone will have to speak another language like they will have to be computer literate.”

Vanessa BauzBa can be reached at vbauza@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4977.



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