Census Bureau figures show nearly 8 percent of U.S. population is foreign-born Language barrier challenges educators

May 30, 1992|By Robert L. Jackson | Robert L. Jackson,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- New Census Bureau figures show that the foreign-born population of the United States rose dramatically in the 1980s to about 7.9 percent of all residents, most of whom are centered in urban areas.

The statistics show a dramatic move to a multicultural society over the past 10 years, from a point in 1980 when foreign-born residents accounted for only 6.2 percent of the population. And over the past 25 years, according to demographers, the trend in immigration has shifted away from Europeans to persons of Latino and Asian ancestry.

The new Census Bureau figures, compiled in the spring of 1990, were derived from a survey taken every 10 years that produces a range of information about the characteristics, habits and lifestyles of Americans.

This survey of 17.7 million homes also showed, for example, that nearly three-quarters of U.S. commuters drove to work alone in 1990, rejecting carpools and mass transit. The figures revealed that nearly 60 percent of mothers with children under 6 years old were in the labor force, an increase from 45.7 percent a decade earlier. And only 4.8 percent of U.S. households were without telephones, down from 7.1 percent in 1980.

Across the nation, 19.7 million residents in 1990 were foreign-born, the latest statistics show. Almost 32 million persons speak foreign languages at home, with more than 40 percent of those reporting they "do not speak English very well." The rise in households where foreign languages are spoken amounted to almost 3 percent over the last 10 years.

Peter Morrison, a demographer at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif., think-tank, said that the influx of immigrants means that schools in urban centers, where most foreign-born residents have settled, face the daunting task of training many non-English speakers for employment and contributing roles in society.

"The changing role for the education system is a serious problem," Mr. Morrison said.

Shifting patterns of immigration showed that the number of immigrants from Mexico, for example, more than doubled to 4.4 million over the decade. A similarly steep increase was reflected in 5.4 million immigrants from Asia.

Most of these new arrivals found homes in cities. There was scant impact in the Midwest.

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