Dec 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Number of non-English speakers in U.S. soared since 1980

A Latino man lifts up his son to see a speaker at a rally in Alabama in front of the Governor's home in Montgomery, Alabama.

A Latino father lifts up his son to see a speaker at a rally in Alabama in front of the governor's mansion in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The number of people in the United States who speak a language other than English at home mainly Spanish has nearly tripled over the last 40 years, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why it matters: Major shifts in immigration from Latin America and Asia have transformed the nation's linguistic diversity and reshaped the United States.

By the numbers: The report found that 67.8 million (almost 1 in 5) people spoke another language besides English. In 1980, that number was 23.1 million (about 1 in 10).

  • Spanish was the most common non-English language spoken in U.S. homes (62%) in 2019.
  • The number of Spanish speakers grew from 11 million in 1980 to 30.6 million in 2019.
  • 55% of Spanish speakers are U.S.-born.

Yes, but: The number of people who speak only English grew by nearly 29% from 1980 to 2019.

Zoom out: The U.S. Latino population for decades has been shifting away from states with historically significant Hispanic populations, according to a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year.

  • Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota, and South Dakota have seen some of the fastest Latino population growth over the last decade.
  • The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators says Latinos were elected this November to statehouses in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont – states that previously had small Latino populations.

Federico Subervi, author of "The Mass Media and Latino Politics," tells Axios the shifts in migration are driven by job opportunities, but that they've resulted in anti-immigrant policies in some places.

  • Whether an immigrant does well in a new community largely depends on whether they have access to Spanish-language media to help them build community, says Subervi, adding that not having that could result in alienation and vulnerability to discrimination.

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