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Census Data

Census Data and Language Access

It’s all about the data.

Although this simple phrase may seem non-descript and mysterious, there is much to unpack here. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys America to get a numeric count of the people who live here.

Not just a count, the Census importantly reveals who we are – the languages we speak, where we live, our ages, our education, and our economic status.  Census data provide the justifications for various programs, activities, and services. The data show the number of people who are limited English proficient (LEP), where they live, and their native language proficiencies.

The data are thus a big deal, with many practical and important functions. Concerning language, Census data show areas of the greatest need for language access and compliance with laws mandating effective, timely language services.

A real time, poignant case in point for Census data salience is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has revealed significant disparities and barriers to care because of language and national origin. Government and health care response to the pandemic has often demonstrated lack of understanding of and compliance with one of our nation’s bedrock civil rights laws, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires local governments, hospitals, airports, public schools and all organizations receiving federal funds to provide timely, effective, meaningful language services to people who speak or read little to no English.

When there is an emergency, such as the worldwide COVID-19 health care pandemic emergency, such services have life sustaining salience. To ensure that vital pandemic and vaccine information is available in myriad languages, effective planning and language access implementation are paramount.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

“Title VI’s plain text and agency regulations clarify that discrimination based on race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency) is prohibited. Recipients of federal financial assistance are also prohibited from implementing facially-neutral policies and practices that have a disproportionate impact on protected groups.

Additionally, Title VI requires recipients to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to programs or activities, benefits, services, and vital information. To avoid violations of federal law, recipients must ensure that their actions do not exclude individuals because of their race, color, or national origin, including limited English proficiency. The prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin can never be waived.

Recipients of federal financial assistance engaged in emergency management activities, as well as recipients that provide emergency-related services, such as health providers and law enforcement agencies, must comply with Title VI at all times.

In fact, complying with these requirements becomes even more important during emergencies and disasters in order to ensure that no one is unjustly denied the services and support they need during times of crisis, when their physical safety or well-being are often at greatest risk, and when many of the resources they might otherwise have drawn upon for support may not be available. Proper planning to comply with Title VI requirements avoids complications imposed by the exigencies of emergencies and disasters…

Title VI and agency implementing regulations require recipients to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to the information and services they provide to LEP persons.

Recipients should make language services available in all their public-facing programs or activities. Language services may include in-person interpretation, telephonic interpretation, translation services, monolingual communication in the LEP person’s language, and sighttranslation.

Including input from and addressing the needs of LEP populations in evacuation and disaster preparedness plans that are made widely available helps ensure that communities have access to them when needed. Recipients should assess the language needs of the service community and develop a language access plan, which is a management tool that provides an administrative blueprint for bringing the agency into compliance with language access requirements.

Such plans outline the recipient’s policies and standards for delivering services to LEP individuals and describe how the agency will implement those policies and standards.”

Census data aids health care providers, state, and local governments to pinpoint geographic areas with large LEP populations that are also COVID-19 hot spots. Emergency and health care response can then use the data to more accurately focus their language services to communities most in need of pandemic health and emergency services and language access.

Using Census data and information compiled by the New York Times, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific Americans Community Development (National CAPACD) created graphs to illustrate these communities of language need.

For example:

“The Need for Language Access in COVID-19 Hot Spots COVID-19 Hot Spots defined as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in which at least one county has 150+ confirmed cases of COVID-19 and where the total MSA has at least 3,000 confirmed, active cases.

There are over 14 million Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons in the 30 metropolitan2 areas with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The percentage of LEP speakers is higher in the COVID-19 hot spots – e.g., a total of 13.5% for the top 30 metropolitan areas – than for the US as a whole (8.3% LEP). By language spoken at home, the largest language access needs are as follows:

– Spanish 9,506,558 Los Angeles, New York, Miami
– Chinese 1,359,283 New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco
– Vietnamese 510,724 Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas
– Korean 428,269 Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC
– Tagalog 289,269 Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York
– Arabic 283,622 New York, Detroit, Los Angeles
– Russian 274,546 New York, Los Angeles, Chicago
– Haitian 255,317 Miami, New York, Boston
– Portuguese 213,582 Boston, New York, Miami
– Polish 166,786 Chicago, New York, Detroit
– French 156,570 New York, Miami, Washington DC
– Bengali 130,742 New York, Detroit, Philadelphia

Data Source: US Census, 2018 1-year American Community Survey”

According to National CAPACD, among the Top-30 COVID-19 Hot Spots with the highest percentage of LEP speakers, the largest language access needs by MSAs with the highest concentrations of LEP population, the three largest by LEP population are:

“Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL MSA – 23.5% LEP population

Top 5 languages spoken:

  1.  Spanish
  2.  Haitian
  3. Portuguese 
  4. French
  5. Chinese
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA MSA – 22.0% LEP population

Top 5 languages spoken:

1. Spanish
2. Chinese
3. Vietnamese
4. Korean
5. Tagalog

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX MSA  – 17.0% LEP population

Top 5 languages spoken:

1. Spanish
2. Vietnamese
3. Chinese
4. Arabic
5. Urdu”

Valuable information such as National CAPACD’s originate from Census data, information that can authoritatively inform and enable much needed language services during our health emergency.

Learn more about the Census and the valuable data that are being published as you read this at the June 24-25, 2021 Linguist Education Online Virtual Conference: Language Access: Visibility of the Profession….


© Bruce L. Adelson 2021. All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only.  No legal advice is intended or conveyed.

Bruce L. Adelson, Esq., is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise.  Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Senior Trial Attorney.  Mr. Adelson is a faculty member at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he teaches organizational culture, implicit bias, cultural and civil rights awareness.

Mr. Adelson’s blogs are a Bromberg exclusive

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