Survey finds less than 90 percent of Texans proficient in English

HOUSTON—Texans aren’t as proficient in English as their fellow Americans, but they’re more apt to mix and match “y’all” and “ustedes” in friendly conversation, according to a Census Bureau survey released Monday.

Results from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, taken separately from the constitutionally mandated decennial headcount, found that an estimated 14.4 percent of Texans at least 5 years old spoke English less than “very well.” That’s about 2.7 million people. Nationally, 7.7 percent weren’t proficient at English.

The 1990 census determined 11.3 percent of Texans did not speak English proficiently a decade ago.

School-age children were found to be more English-proficient than adults, reflecting a national trend. Only an estimated 9.6 percent of children between 5 and 17 years old didn’t speak English “very well.”

Survey respondents were asked if they speak English very well, well, not well or not at all.

Educator Jimmy Vasquez credits bilingual education for helping to produce a generation of students that speak and write English better than their parents.

“The whole idea behind bilingual education is to take them from the known to the unknown,” said Vasquez, executive director of the Region 19 Education Service Center in El Paso. “If they come here knowing only English, in addition they will be learning Spanish on top of that. If they come here knowing only Spanish, it will be the reverse.”

The state also requires that prekindergarten classes be available for children with limited English proficiency. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Adrienne Sobolak said that program gives such children a two-year jump on first grade.

“Studies have found there is a reduction (among prekindergarten students) in school failure for at-risk children, fewer children are held back … and there’s an increase in college attendance.”

Texas is far more linguistically diverse than the rest of the nation, the survey found. English and at least one other language were found to be spoken proficiently at home by 17.6 percent of Texans age 5 and over, compared to 9.9 percent nationally.

“I think what we’ve been able to learn in this state that should be replicated in other states is that you refuse to accept (multiple languages) as a liability and look at it like most other countries, where knowing more than one language is considered an advantage,” Vasquez said.

The supplementary survey was administered at the same time as the formal once-a-decade headcount, which asked many of the same questions on its long form. Survey data, however, is not considered a substitute for more precise results due later from the actual 2000 census.

Other survey results included:

-Median household income in Texas was estimated at $39,120, up 45 percent from $27,016 a decade before. It grew faster than national median household income, which was $41,343, up 38 percent from $30,056 in the 1990 census.

-The survey estimated that nearly 13 percent of Texas families fell below the poverty line, down from 14 percent in the 1990 census. About 10 percent of U.S. families earned poverty wages, according to the 2000 survey.

-About 7 percent of Texas households were estimated to have received food stamp benefits in the 12 months prior to the survey. The national rate was 6 percent.

-The estimated median price of an owner-occupied home in Texas was found to be $83,520, up 40 percent from $59,600 in 1990. Nationally, the median value was an estimated $120,162, up 52 percent from $79,100 in 1990.

-Median rent jumped an estimated 47 percent since 1990, to $580 from $395. That outpaced the national rise of 37 percent, to $612 from $447 a decade before.

-Among Texas males 15 years old and over, an estimated 61 percent were married and 10 percent were single following a separation or divorce, while 56 percent of women were estimated to be married with 15 percent single following a separation or divorce.

-Of the approximately 370,000 Texas women who gave birth in the year prior to the survey, an estimated 27 percent said they were not married at the time. The out-of-wedlock rate nationally was 29 percent.

-Almost 80 percent of Texans were estimated to drive to work alone, four percentage points higher than the national rate.

-An estimated 2.2 percent of Texas adults 30 and over are grandparents responsible for their grandchildren, well ahead of the national rate of 1.5 percent.

-An estimated 24 percent of Texas adults never achieved a high school diploma or equivalent. The survey found 19 percent of U.S. residents did not have a high school education.

-Native Texans made up an estimated 61 percent of the population. Sixty percent of U.S. residents were found to be natives of their states.

-Nearly as many current foreign-born Texas residents arrived here since 1990 as in all the years before: An estimated 1.4 million immigrants came between 1990 and 2000, while 1.5 million arrived before 1990.

-The survey asked residents of Arab, European or African descent to list up to two countries of ancestry. The only primary category in which Texas ranked No. 1 nationally was Czech.

-The 2000 census already revealed Texas was second behind California in residents of Mexican descent, and more detailed Hispanic ancestry figures are due later this month. The survey found Texas was fourth in residents of Central American descent and seventh in residents of South American descent.

-Texas was No. 2 among states in residents of Vietnamese descent, third in residents of Pakistani or Chinese descent and fourth in residents who trace ancestry to India, according to survey estimates.

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