Importing Illiteracy?

Among blacks, the basic literacy rate climbed to 76% from 70% and among Asian/Pacific Islanders to 86% from 75%. Whites edged up to 93% from 91%.

But among Hispanic adults, the trend is sharply in the other direction. From 1992 to 2003, their basic literacy rate fell from 65% to 56%. In 2003, they accounted for 12% of the overall adult population and 39% of the population with “below basic” English skills.

It’s no surprise that a group with a high proportion of native Spanish speakers would have a higher-than-average rate of English illiteracy. But the change in the illiteracy rate among Hispanics from 1992 to 2003 takes more explaining. Why did this group, and not others, seem to lose so much ground?

We can think of at least two possible causes. One is in the schools. Unlike most other non-English speaking immigrants, Hispanic children are subjected to bilingual education that encourages them to continue speaking Spanish and retards their learning of English.

Then there’s the impact of illegal immigration, which has soared since the early ’90s. The impact of illegals on overall levels of education and literacy isn’t hard to guess. Most come here to work in low-paid, low-skill, dead-end jobs; their level of schooling in their native language, much less English, is probably not high.

In the U.S. economy, where knowledge of English is essential for advancement, they pay a price for their lack of such a basic skill. So does society, which struggles to integrate them into the mainstream. Employers who see only the benefits of cheap labor fail to account for those social costs. So do intellectuals and politicians who insist on talking about illegal immigration only in economic terms.

If the influx of unskilled workers is adding to the nation’s illiteracy — as the numbers suggest — then cheap, illegal labor is no bargain.

One Response to “Importing Illiteracy?”

  1. Jim Says:

    38 % illigals have less than ninth grade education. The No Child Left Behind Program is a losing battle.

Leave a Reply