The Effects of Official English Laws on Limited-English-Proficient Workers

Madeline Zavodny
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Working Paper 98-4a
April 1998
Revised December 1998

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Workers with limited English skills may suffer adverse effects in the labor market when states declare English the official language. If employers view official English laws as allowing or requiring them to adopt workplace English-only rules that lower the demand for limited-English-proficient workers, such laws may harm individuals who do not speak English very well. Using data from the 1980 and 1990 Census, I estimate whether the earnings and other labor market outcomes of workers who have limited English proficiency and live in states that adopted official English laws declined relative to other workers'. The results suggest a substantial decline in the annual earnings of men with limited English proficiency.

JEL classification: J71, J78

Key words: official English, English only, discrimination

The author thanks Marie Mora, John Pepper, Kim Rueben, and seminar participants at the University of South Carolina for many helpful suggestions. The views expressed here are the author's and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the author's responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to Madeline Zavodny, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 104 Marietta Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30303-2713, 404/498-8977, 404/498-8058 (fax), madeline.