The Las Vegas metropolitan area ranked 17th highest in the nation for the number of working-age adults with limited English skills, according to a new study released late Tuesday by the Brookings Institution.
The first-of-its-kind study ranked the 89 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas. The study found that almost one in 10 working age U.S. adults — 19.2 million people ages 16 to 64 — have limited proficiency in English.
In Las Vegas, that translates to 207,224 individuals, or 15.7 percent of the total working age population, according to the study. The New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island metropolitan area ranked first for its limited English proficient population with 2.3 million individuals.
“It’s a big issue and it’s been somewhat neglected,” said Jill H. Wilson, a senior researcher analyst and associate fellow, who authored the study.
The study is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey and ranks metropolitan areas on the size and share of population with limited English speakers and the growth or decline of that population since 2000.
Las Vegas saw a 61.2 percent change in its limited English speaking population from 2000 to 2012, ranking 16th for that growth, according to the study. About 75 percent of that population spoke Spanish at home, 4.3 percent spoke other Indo-European languages and 18.3 percent spoke Asian or Pacific Islander languages.
The median annual earnings in 2012 of employed, working-age limited English speakers in Las Vegas was $28,300. The educational attainment for 38.4 percent of that population was less than high school. About 51.3 percent had a high school education and some college while 10.2 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the study.
“English proficiency is an essential gateway to economic opportunity for immigrant workers in the United States,” according to the study. “Yet access to acquiring these skills is persistently limited by a lack of resources and attention.”
The Community Multicultural Center on Renaissance Drive in Las Vegas last month was forced to close its doors and lay off 16 part-time employees, including receptionists and instructors, after it lost its federal funding, said Lynn Austin, the nonprofit’s executive director.
For the past 10 years, the organization had received the federal funding, which was distributed by the Nevada Department of Education, but it became more competitive this year, Austin said.
The center used to offer English as a Second Language classes, classes for those looking to finish their high school education and adult special education classes, he said. Seventy percent of the students were there for English classes, he said.
He said most of the students wanted to learn English to be able to get a job or a better paying job.
“We will have to find another grant,” he said.
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada offers free English classes for the public Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., said Leslie Carmine, spokeswoman for the nonprofit. Last year, the nonprofit had about 1,336 students.
The organization also provides those services to refugees. One of the first challenges they face after arriving here is learning English, Carmine said.
Part of the main focus is “to get them to a point where they are self-sufficient,” she said.
The study says that an increase in funding for adult English instruction could come from a number of sources such as a reformed Workforce Investment Act, states or municipalities, and employers among others. But there also needs to be targeted outreach and instructional innovations are needed, according to the study.
MGM Resorts International offers free, on-site English as a Second Language classes to employees, according to spokeswoman Mary Hynes.