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A Human Capital Concern: The Literacy Proficiency of United States Immigrants ESL NALS

Sum, Andrew M.; Kirsch, Irwin S.; Yamamoto, Kentaro
Publication Year:
ETS Policy Information Center Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Human Capital, Immigration, Literacy Proficiency, English Literacy, Labor Market, Community Affairs, Gitomer, Drew H., English as a Second Language (ESL), National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), Public Policy, Immigrants


This Policy Information Report is the second in a series designed to take the vast amount of background and assessment information that has been collected from the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) and the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and produce a set of papers that deal with topics of interest and importance to a range of constituencies. The first report, The Twin Challenges of Mediocrity and Inequality: Literacy in the U.S. from an International Perspective, focused on the literacy performance of U.S. adults in comparisonto adults in other high-income countries. This second report helps us to understand these performance patterns in greater depth by focusing on the literacy proficiencies of the nation's immigrant population. The authors characterize the literacy proficiencies of our nation's foreign born and compare their performance not only with adults born in the U.S. but with their foreign-born counterparts in other high-income countries around the world. This information comes at an important time in our nation's history. New immigration reached historically high levels during the decade of the 1990s, with between 13 and 14 million new immigrants arriving on our shores. These individuals accounted for more than 40% of our nation's population growth over this most recent decade. High levels of immigration are projected for the current decade as well.

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