Nearly 7 Million Californians Rely on Language Access

Updated: May 13

Roughly 7 million LEPs, which is equivalent to 19 percent of California’s population. The national figure is even greater at 25.6 million, which is equivalent to 8.4 percent of the overall U.S. population. To help put these numbers in perspective, California’s LEPs represent a share of 28 percent of the overall national LEP population, according to the most recent 2019 Census estimates.

One common misconception is that LEPs are all immigrants. In fact, about 27 percent of Californians are foreign born. Moreover, California enjoys the highest level of linguistic diversity. In 2015, the Census Bureau reported there are at least 350 languages spoken in the U.S. and there are 1855 different languages spoken in Los Angeles County.

Research indicates diversity is a strong predictor of economic development. Diversity is said to foster creativity and promote the quest for novel information and perspectives, and lead to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity drives innovation and changes the way we think. How does California manage and leverage its diversity? What are the challenges of coordinating consistent language access for a large diverse state such as California?

In addition to language barriers, LEPs face stigma, discrimination, and systemic social disadvantages. LEPs can be both U.S. and foreign-born individuals who possess limited fluency in the English language. It is not uncommon for LEPs to speak some English but lack sufficient fluency to understand, speak, read, or write in English to take care of official business. Being unable to communicate freely can have negative consequences. A 2020 study in the Annals of Epidemiology7 found that COVID-19 diagnoses were associated with counties with greater monolingual Spanish speakers and also emphasized that occupational exposure plays a vital role in Latino COVID-19 cases and deaths.