Fact Sheets: Costs of Multilingualism

  • St. Cloud (MN) reported in March 2003 that almost $200,000 was spent in a nine-month period on a variety of interpreter and translation services. Many of these costs are not reimbursed by insurance.
    AP, Central Minnesota health workers face challenge of diversity, July 1, 2003

  • Alameda County (CA) Medical Center has 18 full-time interpreters on staff in addition to 19 on-call translators. The county’s hospitals are relatively well staffed, even though patients may have to wait a long time for the services. Providing translation services costs the center more than $1 million a year. That’s especially high in light of budget woes that forced the closure last week of two of its clinics. Meanwhile, 22.4 percent of the center’s patients have no insurance, 66.4 percent are on Medi-Cal, Medicare or the county’s indigent program and less than 5 percent have insurance. Medi-Cal reimburses Highland $23.77 for a standard visit. The hospital pays its staff interpreters $18 to $20 an hour. For other health care providers without staff interpreters, translations services can be very expensive. Contracting such services can range from $30 to $130 per hour.
    Victoria Colliver, Videophones help hospital provide crucial translation services, San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 2003

  • Over the past five years, the number of Kentucky students enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes has tripled. Schools have responded by hiring bilingual staff, training teachers in new instruction methods for other cultures, and having teachers visit student’s homes. Kentucky is finding out that multilingualism is expensive. Jefferson County Public Schools – which provides 65 ESL teachers and dozens of bilingual assistants, spends about $5 million a year on ESL students. Bowling Green spends about $500,000 a year for its ESL population on everything from bilingual dictionaries to bilingual teachers. The state met some of its surging ESL demands with federal emergency grants that rose from 158,000 in 1998 to 622,000 in 2002. This year it received $1.3 million under the No Child Left Behind Act.
    Source: AP, Schools strained by influx of Spanish-speaking students, July 7, 2003

  • Reversing a campaign pledge to push for English immersion programs, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expanded the city’s bilingual education program. Under the new plan, announced in June, the city will spend $20 million to allow students to take their core courses in their native tongues.
    Source: Liz Trotta, N.Y. Mayor overhauls bilingual education, Washington Times, July 8, 2003

  • The Virginia Supreme Court has certification programs for Spanish court interpreters and is considering certification programs in Vietnamese and Korean. In 2002, 36,625 people were served by language interpreters in Virginia criminal cases, at a cost of 2.7 million to taxpayers. These numbers have almost doubled since 2000 and are expected to keep rising.
    AP, Courts respond to rise of Virginia’s Spanish-speaking population, July 6, 2003

  • Washington D.C. city financial officials estimate that a proposed “Language Access Bill” would cost $7.74 million to implement. The bill would require almost all city agencies to hire translators and translate official documents for any language spoken by over 500 non-English language proficient people in the city.
    Sylvia Moreno, Advocates for Immigrants Endorse D.C. Language Bill, Washington Post, April 9, 2003

  • 21.3 million Americans are classified as “limited English proficient,” a 52 percent increase from 1990, and more than double the 1980 total.
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000, 1990, 1980

  • One-in-25 American households are linguistically isolated, meaning that no one in the household older than age 14 can speak English.
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2000

  • Effective English language instruction is an essential antipoverty tool for working immigrant families. Poverty and the need for public benefits, such as food stamps, are more closely related to limited English proficiency than with citizenship or legal status.
    Source: Urban Institute, Immigrant Well-Being in New York and Los Angeles, August 2002

  • Massachusetts offers drivers license exams in 25 different languages, Kentucky in 23, New York in 22 and California in 21. In all, 44 states and the District of Columbia offer the exam in languages other than English.
    Source: Department of Motor Vehicles in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 2002

  • The total annual cost for the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to provide language services is $2.2 million. Providing the same level of DMV translation services nationwide would cost approximately $8.5 million per year.
    Source: U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Report to Congress: Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs of Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, March 14, 2002

  • Of the 3,600 Chinese ballots prepared for the Sept. 2002 primary election in King County, Wash., only 24 (or 0.67 percent) were used.
    Source: Warren Cornwall, Bilingual vote turnout low: Only 24 Chinese ballots returned in primary, Seattle Times, October 9, 2002

  • The total cost of providing multilingual services for the Immigration and Naturalization Service would be between $114 million and $150 million annually.
    Source: U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Report to Congress: Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs on Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Person with Limited English Proficiency, March 14, 2002

  • It costs $1.86 million annually to prepare written translations for food stamp recipients nationwide. The cost for oral translations skyrocket to $21 million nationally per year.
    Source: U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Report to Congress: Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs of Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Person with Limited English Proficiency, March 14, 2002

  • Multilingualism in government isn’t cheap, even at the local level. Following are but a few snapshots of the costs involved in translating government documents:

    • $3.3 million, 15 percent of the area’s entire election expense, for Los Angeles County to print election ballots in seven languages and hire multilingual poll workers for the March 2002 primary.
      Source: Deborah Kong, Vote or vota: November elections to be held in multiple languages in 30 states, Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2002
    • $265 per day for each of 420 full-time court interpreters hired by Los Angeles County.
      Source: Don Feder, Courting the Tower of Babel; Washington Times, Feb. 3, 2002
    • $350,000 for each language that documents must be translated into under San Francisco’s bilingual government ordinance.
      Source: Janet Ng, Asian Week.com, June 1, 2001
    • $500,000 for free translation services in Maine hospitals in 2001, which is double the 2000 cost, and nearly triple the 1999 amount.
      Source: The Associated Press, Bangor Daily News, July 19, 2000
  • A federal judge has forced New York City to provide translated documents and interpreters to food stamp recipients with limited English skills. Under the agreement, the city must provide documents in any language spoken by 100 or more clients who use a specific welfare office.
    Alan Feuer, City Must Translate for Food Stamp Recipients, New York Times, Oct. 12, 2001

  • Forcing physicians to provide multilingual outpatient services would cost $180.8 million annually. In addition, inpatient services in multiple languages would cost hospitals $78.2 million, while the bill for multilingual emergency room services would tally $8.6 million, pushing the health care total to $267.6 million.
    Source: U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Report to Congress: Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs on Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Person with Limited English Proficiency, March 14, 2002

  • The cost of an interpreter can exceed the reimbursement of a Medicare or Medicaid visit by 13 times – costing doctors more than $500 per translator (based on figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – Medicare reimburses doctors roughly $40, which is 80 percent of the average national payment rate of $50 and approximately $35 for Medicaid patients).
    Source: American Medical Association, Letter to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget, December 21, 2001, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Public Information Office, 2002

  • More than $100 million have been spent in the last 30 years to assess the value of bilingual education. Two startling conclusions made in the study include: (1) There is no evidence that a program of native language instruction has greater benefits than any other type of education program, and (2) Teaching children to read in English first, instead of in their native tongue, has no negative consequences. The enormous amount of research is on top of the $665 million a year the federal government spends on bilingual programs.
    Source: National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, 1997

  • When compared to English-speaking Hispanics, limited English proficient Latinos are 3 1/2 times more likely not to have had their blood pressure checked in the last five years, three time more likely not to have a dental exam in the last five years and twice as likely not to have had their cholesterol checked in the last five years.
    Source: The Commonwealth Fund, Diverse Communities, Common Concerns: Assessing Health Care Quality for Minority Americans, March 2002

  • The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute found that “far and away, the most commonly cited obstacle to gaining college knowledge was the language barrier.” While 96 percent of the Latino parents surveyed in the nation’s three largest cities expected their children to go to college, nearly two-thirds missed at least half of the questions on a “mini-test of college knowledge.”
    Source: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, College Knowledge, April 2002

  • Learning English is clearly one of the most important issues for Hispanics, with 29 percent claiming that language is the top barrier preventing Latinos from succeeding in the U.S. Latinos also strongly believe (68.2 percent) that bilingual education programs should focus on ensuring students learn English well.
    Source: The Latino Coalition, 2002 National Hispanic Survey

  • Those with limited English proficiency are less likely to be employed, less likely to be employed continuously, tend to work in the least desirable sectors and earn less than those who speak English. Annual earnings by limited English proficient adults were approximately half of the total population surveyed.
    Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, English Literacy and Language Minorities in the United States, August 2001

  • More than 83 percent of New York City students who entered bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in ninth grade did not have a firm enough grasp of English to test out of those programs four years later. More than 16 percent of all New York City students do not become fluent enough for mainstream classes after nine years.
    Source: Don Soifer, Lexington Institute, Bilingual Education in New York City: Poor Accountability, Worse Progress, October 2002

  • The New York City Board of Education found that in the class of 2001, nearly one- third of English Language Learners (ELLs) dropped out within four years, while less than 30 percent graduated during that span. On the other hand, nearly 60 percent of former ELLs who had attained proficiency in English graduated within four years, higher than the percentage of English proficient students who achieved this mark. Former ELL’s were less likely to drop out over the four year time period, 15 percent vs. 20 percent.
    Source: Advocates for Children of New York and The New York Immigration Coalition, Creating a Formula for Success: Why English Language Learner students are dropping out of school, and how to increase graduation rates, June 2002

  • According to researchers at Johns Hopkins School of American Politics, gubernatorial, Senate and House political candidates spent record amounts in the 2002 elections on Spanish-language network advertising – more than $9 million through October 24 for about 14,000 television spots. Another $2 million was reportedly spent on advertising in down-ballot races and ballot initiatives.
    Source: Mary Sutter, Bustling Ballots Boon to Spanish TV, Daily Variety, October 30, 2002

  • Air Canada spends more than $9,265,000 per year conforming to Canada’s bilingual requirements, requiring the airline to generate an additional $185,000,000 in additional sales to cover these costs.
    Source: Jean-Marc Trottier, Bilingual Services at Air Canada, Presentation to the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages, Sept. 9, 2001