Estimating the Number of LEP (Limited English Proficient) Persons in the United States

July 17, 2009

The term LEP is widely used in healthcare, legal and educational settings. As defined by the Department of Justice LEP Guidance, LEP persons are “”those individuals who have a limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English”. The significance of the term is, without a doubt, related to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits recipients from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin, and contemplates a close nexus between one’s national origin and one’s language. At Translation Source, our clients often ask us about the size and character of the LEP market. Given the limited public information that addresses this, we undertook an internal study of the matter. This blog post is an introduction to our findings. We are currently developing a full white paper discussing the LEP market that we expect to publish in September 2009. There are two major challenges when estimating market size of the LEP population: First, the DOJ definition allows for subjectivity: Should we include persons who are deaf or hard of hearing? How should we define “limited ability”? Second, the latest reliable information on the matter comes from the 2000 census, which is obviously outdated. To overcome these obstacles, we made several assumptions in our study including the following:

  • We did not include persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • We defined the LEP population as all of those who do not speak English very well and those who do not speak English at all, as defined by the 2000 Census.
  • To update the data of the 2000 Census, we assumed that the number of LEP Spanish speakers has grown at the same rate as the aggregate growth of the Hispanic population and that the LEP non-Spanish speakers has grown at the same rate as the aggregate growth of the Asian American population. The growth numbers were taken from U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Our analysis shows that there are an estimated 25 million LEP persons in the United States as of July 1, 2008. There are meaningful data points taken away from this number: The current LEP population is comparable to that of the entire population of the state of Texas or 20% larger than the populations of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming combined. California, Texas, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Florida average a 15% LEP population with 33% of the population speaking a language other than English in the home.

  • California: 6.7 million or 20% are LEP, 14.2 million or 42.3% speak a language other than English in the home.
  • Texas: 3.1 million or 14.6% are LEP, 7.1 million or 33.5% speak a language other than English in the home.
  • New York: 2.3 million or 13% are LEP, 5.1 million or 28.6% speak a language other than English in the home.
  • New Mexico: 188 thousand or 10% are LEP, 648 thousand or 36% speak a language other than English in the home.
  • Illinois: 1.1 million or 9.8% are LEP, 2.5 million or 21.6% speak a language other than English in the home.
  • Florida: 1.9 million or 11.7% are LEP, 4.3 million or 25.6% speak a language other than English in the home.

The LEP population may be growing three times as quickly as the general U.S. population We welcome your comments and would love to hear your opinion via this blog or Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+ pages. Also, we would like to hear about how you see the increasing importance of the LEP market affecting your job and how your company or institution is adapting to meet the challenges generated by this trend.

If you would like additional information on this topic or have questions on planning and executing your next translation or multilingual initiative, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (800) 413-7838.

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