Introduction: This report explores if there is truly a trend in income levels for Latinos who speak both English and Spanish compared to those of Latinos who speak English only in New York City.
Methods: Data on Latinos and other racial/ethnic groups were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, reorganized for public use by the Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota, IPUMSusa. Cases in the dataset were weighted and analyzed to produce population estimates.
Results: When taking into account language variables to analyze the income levels of Latinos, one notices a minor difference between bilingual Latinos and monolingual Latinos. Overall, bilingual Latinos appear to have had an advantage over monolingual Latinos in terms of median total personal income: $30,000 and $25,000, respectively. Under this broad interpretation and without considering other variables, bilingual Latinos enjoy an economic advantage. Incorporating other variables such as place of birth and educational attainment gives a clearer picture of the possible impact of language on Latino income attainment. When comparing the median total personal income of bilingual Latinos based on place of birth, we see that foreign-born bilingual Latinos earned less than domestic-born bilingual Latinos, $25,000 and $30,000 respectively. Bilingual Latinos who were born in the U.S. appear to have an earning advantage over their foreign-born counterparts.
Discussion: the economic benefits of Spanish-English bilingualism are highly mediated by the effects of educational attainment. For those who lacked a four-year college degree in 2009, bilingual Spanish-English Latinos generally possessed an advantage in obtaining higher incomes than monolingual English-only Latinos. On the other hand, bilingual Latinos who held at least a Bachelor’s degree in 2009 earned less than their monolingual counterparts. These findings were also confirmed when classifying occupations into two categories: jobs that typically require a Bachelor’s degree and those that do not. For occupations that require a four-year college degree (architects, civil engineers, physicians, and lawyers), bilingual Latinos earned less than monolingual Latinos. Conversely, bilingual Latinos earned more than monolingual Latinos for occupations that do not typically require a Bachelor’s degree (janitors, construction workers, waiters, receptionists and secretaries).