But wait! There's more bad news!
The Census has another measure of the failure of the assimilative mechanism: "linguistic isolation" (LI). Its definition of "linguistic isolation:" households in which no adult speaks only English; and no adult speaks English "very well."
The Census Bureau counts all the members of such households as linguistically isolated. (This includes members under 14 years of age, although some may speak English.)
In 2000, 11.9 million U.S. residents were linguistically isolated (LI). That's up from 7.7 million in 1990, an increase of more than half (53.6%).
Other key points from the 2000 Census:
Spanish speakers now form the largest single LI community in the United States - comprising about 60% of the total.
Spanish-language immigrants are slower at acquiring English and the intergenerational shift towards English proficiency is less intense among the Spanish-speaking population. Apparently, the sheer size of the Spanish-speaking community, with its Spanish-language institutions and media obviates the need for English proficiency.
(Immigration enthusiasts always assume that mass communications must spread English, but foreign language programming and satellite feeds from the old country may also be promoting foreign language retention for all groups–for example, Asians.)
Also important in Spanish retention: Lower levels of schooling, bilingual education, and a greater tendency for Mexican immigrants to view their stay in the U.S. as temporary or to be combined with frequent return migrations to Mexico.
Immigrants who are not proficient in English pay a price: they earn 17% less than immigrants of similar backgrounds, experience, and education who are proficient in English. (Source: Chiswick, B.R. and Miller, P.W., "Language in the Immigrant Labor Market," in Immigration, Language, and Ethnicity: Canada and the United States, Washington D.C., American Enterprise Institute, 1992.) And American society pays a price: Linguistic isolation is often associated with poverty, poor health, depression, and–most obviously–alienation from the mainstream American culture.
If current immigration policy continues, the U.S. in the coming decades will be increasingly characterized by both linguistic concentration, with LI Spanish speakers accounting for ever larger shares of the U.S. population, and linguistic diversity, with an increasing number of non-Spanish language enclaves scattered throughout the nation.
The Greeks had a word for this: Balkanization.
Persons in Linguistically Isolated Households
(Population 5 Years Old and Over, in millions)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau,