Language, Employment and Earnings in the United States: Spanish-English Differentials from 1970 to 1990


This paper analyzes employment and earnings differentials between Spanish speakers and English speakers in the United States, using data from the 1970, 1980, and 1990 U.S. censuses. The results show that Spanish speakers, both men and women, do not perform as well in the labor market as English speakers. The results also reveal that Spanish-English earnings and unemployment differentials increased slightly in the 1970s, most likely because of rapid growth in the number of Spanish speakers. By contrast, these differentials increased sharply in the 1980s, also a period of rapidly increasing supply. However, there is no evidence that the widening of differentials in the 1980s reflects an increase in the labor market rewards to English language proficiency. Rather, they appear to be the result of Spanish speakers having relatively little of those labor market characteristics, most notably education, whose market value increased dramatically during the 1980s.

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