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New fact sheet: immigrant Dreamers and middle-skill jobs

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New fact sheet: immigrant Dreamers and middle-skill jobs

Following the recent introduction of a bipartisan DREAM Act in the Senate, National Skills Coalition is releasing a new fact sheet on the role immigrant Dreamers can play in meeting business needs for middle-skill workers.

The U.S. is home to at least 1.7 million immigrants who came to this country as children and do not have authorized immigration status, often referred to as Dreamers. Approximately 800,000 Dreamers have received a temporary status known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides them with protection from deportation and a 2-year renewable work permit.

While the popular image of Dreamers is often one of students enrolled in four-year colleges or universities, research has shown that many are pursuing two-year degrees or other credentials that will equip them for middle-skill jobs. Examples of such jobs include:

  • Laboratory technicians
  • Certified production technicians
  • Supply chain specialists
  • Computer-user support specialists

These middle-skill jobs comprise the majority of today’s labor market – 53% of all jobs in the U.S. – and are in high demand throughout each of the fifty states.

NSC’s fact sheet highlights specific steps that state and federal policymakers can take to strengthen connections to middle-skill pathways for Dreamers. Crucially, many of these policy recommendations will improve pathways for American-born jobseekers as well as immigrants.

View the full fact sheet here.

Posted In: Immigration
New Texas and Arkansas Fact Sheets: Immigrants Can Help Meet Demand for Middle-Skill Workers

Two new fact sheets from National Skills Coalition highlight the important role that immigrant workers play in filling middle-skill jobs in Texas and Arkansas.

While immigration settlement patterns differ substantially between the two states, in both cases, immigrant workers will be vital to helping the states meet their ambitious goals for postsecondary credential attainment and respond to local industries’ talent needs.

To accomplish these goals, states will need to ensure that their talent-development pipelines are inclusive of the many immigrants who are poised to benefit from investments in their skills: More than half of adult immigrants in Arkansas (62 percent) and Texas (63 percent) have not gone beyond high school in their education.

Arkansas: A Quickly Growing Immigrant Population Meets Aging Workforce

Arkansas is one of the nation’s fastest-growing immigrant destinations. The state has seen its foreign-born population quintuple in recent years, rising from just 1 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent today.

Immigrants in Arkansas are much more likely to be of working age: Fully 83 percent are between the ages of 18-64, compared to just 59 percent of native-born Arkansas residents. The relatively high number of elders in the native-born population also contributes to another notable difference: 68 percent of adult immigrants in Arkansas are in the labor force, compared to 57% of native-born Arkansas adults.

The state has recently established a significant goal for middle-skill credential attainment: By 2025, Arkansas seeks to increase the percentage of state residents with a postsecondary credential to 60 percent. Immigrants are certain to be an important component of the state’s future workforce pipeline.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Arkansas’ Untapped Assets

Texas: A Big Population Meets an Ambitious Postsecondary Goal

As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas – and that is certainly true for immigration.  Texas has long been a magnet for newcomers from abroad, having been one of the “Big Six” destination states (along with California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York) for decades.

Today, Texas is home to more than 4.7 million immigrants, who comprise 1 in 6 state residents. The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board has recently established an aggressive goal for postsecondary attainment. By 2030, the state aims to equip at least 60 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds with a certificate or degree.

In order to reach that goal, Texas will need to invest in skill-building for native-born and immigrant workers alike.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Texas’ Untapped Assets

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Arkansas, Texas

Senators Introduce Dream Act; Includes Middle-Skill Pathway

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Senators Introduce Dream Act; Includes Middle-Skill Pathway

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today introduced the Dream Act of 2017. The bill would provide a path to legal immigration status and eventual U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet eligibility requirements. Notably, the bill includes a provision that would enable immigrants who earn certain middle-skill credentials to obtain legal status. NSC has long advocated for this provision, which ensures that the Dream Act is responsive to current US labor market needs. As described below, American businesses across all fifty states show strong and continuing demand for workers who are trained at the middle-skill level.

What the Bill Includes

The Dream Act introduced today is similar in its general outline to earlier versions introduced in Congress over the past 15 years, but has been modernized in numerous respects to better reflect today’s labor market and other considerations. Individuals who apply for status under the Dream Act of 2017 would need to complete a three-step process.

First, applicants would have to meet initial criteria and apply for conditional permanent resident status. Second, those who receive conditional status would have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status (known colloquially as a “green card”). Finally, those who have green cards would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

In order to earn permanent resident status, individuals would need to meet a range of eligibility criteria, including but not limited to:

  • Graduating from high school or obtaining high school equivalency;
  • Pursuing higher education (including certain middle-skill educational pathways); working lawfully for at least 3 years, or serving in the military;
  • Demonstrating proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
  • Passing security and law enforcement background checks

Why A Middle-Skill Pathway Matters

Middle-skill occupations are those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. A National Skills Coalition analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found there are not enough workers in the U.S. trained for middle-skill jobs: Fully 54% of jobs in the labor market are middle skill, but only 44% of workers are trained to that level.

There is robust demand for middle-skill workers across the 50 states, as NSC’s state-by-state fact sheets demonstrate. Immigrant Dreamers can play an important role in helping their states meet the demand for these workers. Research on Dreamers has shown that many are already obtaining middle-skill credentials.

In recognition of this labor market demand, NSC has long advocated for a middle-skills pathway in the Dream Act. Our Missing in Action report outlines policy recommendations in this area. The new Dream Act being introduced by Senators Durbin and Graham incorporates our core recommendation, and would allow individuals who earn certain middle-skill credentials to qualify for legal status.

How Many People Would Be Affected 

While estimates of the exact number of individuals who would be eligible for the new Dream Act is are not yet available, data from a related effort can help shed light on the potential universe of applicants.

That data comes from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which issued estimates indicating that 1.9 million young people could be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was implemented through executive action by the Obama administration in 2012 and allows eligible young undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary protection from deportation and a 2-year renewable work permit. DACA eligibility requirements are similar but not identical to those for the first step of the Dream Act.

To date, approximately 800,000 individuals have been granted DACA status. Under the newly introduced Dream Act, people who had already received DACA would automatically be granted the first step in the Dream Act process -- conditional permanent resident status – unless they have engaged in conduct subsequent to receiving DACA that would make them ineligible.

A Permanent Resolution Versus a Temporary Fix

While the DACA program has provided a temporary fix for many young immigrant Dreamers, no president has the authority to grant permanent immigration status. Only Congress has the power to provide a path to permanent legal status and citizenship.

Introduction of the new Dream Act comes as the Trump administration is facing a challenge from states that want the DACA program to be abolished. A group of 10 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has set a September 2017 deadline for the administration to “phase out” the DACA program or face legal action. 

Posted In: Immigration
Maine introduces legislation to support and integrate immigrant workforce

A Republican state senator in Maine has introduced a bill that would create a Cabinet-level Office of New Mainers. The bipartisan legislation is in response to concerns about the state’s aging workforce, and recognition that immigrant workers represent a potential resource for meeting the state’s current and future labor force needs.

According to Census figures, nearly 1 in 5 Mainers is over the age of 65, and the state has the oldest median age in the nation. Just 3.5 percent of the state’s population was born abroad, a number that is far below the national average of 13 percent foreign-born residents.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta). A press release from the senator’s office describes key features of the bill, titled An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New Mainers To Strengthen the Workforce (LD 1492). The bill would create an Office of New Mainers headed by a director who would:

  • Coordinate with state agencies and programs to attract, educate, integrate and retain immigrants into Maine’s workforce. Specific agencies mentioned include the state’s departments of Labor; Education; Economic and Community Development; Health and Human Services; and Professional and Financial Regulation.
  • Administer programs, projects and grants to attract, educate, integrate and retain immigrants into the state’s workforce, economy and communities.
  • Develop metrics to evaluate outcomes.
  • Establish a committee to provide input and guide the development and implementation of the comprehensive plan. Committee members would include a wide range of stakeholders, including a representative from the state workforce board; three Chamber of Commerce representatives; a postsecondary education representative; and a person with “extensive experience in providing educational instruction to adult English Language Learners.”

The press release also notes that the bill would establish a Welcome Center Initiative to provide vocational training for foreign-trained workers, match those individuals with employers in areas experiencing a shortage of trained workers and establish three grant programs to provide support to immigrants, communities and adult education programs to achieve the stated goals.

In recognition of the critical role that English language acquisition plays in economic integration, the bill specifies that the Welcome Centers would be housed within existing adult education administrative structures. To ensure that job-training activities are demand-driven, organizations seeking funding under this program must collaborate with local employers to identify skill needs and develop interventions that address those needs.

The bill’s total projected price tag is $2 million. If enacted, Maine would join six other states that have established state-level Offices of New Americans or other initiatives designed to ensure that immigrant residents are incorporated into the labor market and broader society. Those states are California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 2015, the Pew Immigration and the States Project released a short analysis of such state-level efforts. 

Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education, Maine
California uses $2.5 million in WIOA discretionary funds to support “Workforce Navigation” for immigrants

More than 1 in 3 Californians was born in another country, and the state’s workforce system is moving to address systems-alignment and coordination issues to improve services to immigrants and English Language Learners.  On May 1, the California Workforce Development Board and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency announced the award of five grants to local workforce boards to support pilot “Workforce Navigator” programs over the next 18 months.

A major impetus for the project was the state’s recognition of a disconnect between the high number of immigrant and English Language Learner workers in California and the relatively low number being served by the workforce system. In particular, just 3.7 percent of individuals exiting from the state’s WIOA Title I intensive services in Program Year 2014 had limited English skills.

Grant Recipients

Each of the five local boards received a $500,000 grant. The grantees are:

  • Madera County Workforce Investment Corporation
  • Orange County Development Board
  • Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network
  • Sacramento Employment and Training Agency
  • San Diego Workforce Partnership, Inc.

Notably, the grantees represent a wide range of geographic, economic, and demographic diversity. Workforce navigators will likely face location-specific opportunities and challenges given settings as diverse as the sprawling Los Angeles metropolitan area (for the Pacific Gateway project), and the substantially less-dense Fresno area (in the Madera County project).

Project Goals

As outlined in the project’s Request for Applications, a primary goal is to improve systems coordination to allow individual jobseekers to more smoothly navigate through adult education, job training, and other workforce services. In particular, grantees are being asked to improve coordination between Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I (workforce) and Title II (adult education) services.

Required activities for each grantee include:

  • Leveraging and coordinating a network of wrap-around services (childcare, transportation, etc.) offered through the workforce system and other partners to help individual participants successfully complete workforce programs. 
  • Partnering with nonprofit community-based organizations, particularly in cases when these organizations have established relationships or expertise in serving immigrant communities that local boards do not.
  • Improving alignment with WIOA Title II adult education programs, including co-enrolling participants as appropriate.
  • Establishment of a Workforce Navigator position, designating a specific staff member to help individual immigrant participants navigate the workforce and adult education systems.

Project Funding Source and Key Partners

Key partners in the effort include the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and the California Department of Education, which oversees the state’s adult education programs. The state workforce board is also funding third-party technical assistance and evaluation components of the project.

Funds for the project come from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act through a provision known colloquially as the “governor’s reserve.” Every state is permitted to use up to 15 percent of its WIOA Title I funds for specific statewide projects at the governor’s discretion, provided the activities meet statutory requirements. All individuals participating in WIOA Title I-funded services must be legally authorized to work in the United States. 

More information about the California effort can be found on the project website.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, California
New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

A recent Request for Applications (RFA) from the New York State Office for New Americans represents an innovative approach to improving low-income immigrants’ access to career pathways and other workforce and social services for which they are eligible.

The RFA proposes to use just over $1 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to support full-time Community Navigator staff positions at 14 organizations.  Grants of approximately $75,000 are expected to be made to each selected organization. Once awarded, the year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds.  

Per the RFA, the goal of the project is to “maximize the participation of low-income immigrant community members in New York State’s civic and economic life.” The project is not intended to directly provide services. Rather, each community navigator will function as a sort of air-traffic controller, overseeing a corps of volunteers in their local region who will help eligible immigrants to discover and access already-existing services. Navigators will also be responsible for a set of convening and coordinating activities meant to deepen local understanding of immigrant integration, particularly around workforce and economic issues.

Why the project was created

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) explains the rationale behind this project in the introduction to its RFA:

There is a chronic lack of accessible information about publicly available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout New York State. Low-income New American communities in New York State often lack reliable information regarding workforce development opportunities and other opportunities open to all New Yorkers to fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. Meanwhile, the complex relationship between immigrants and government has further left newcomers at a deficit for reliable, trusted information.

Taken together, this has left New York State’s new American population ignored for career pathways, vulnerable to financial frauds and at an access deficit for possible ladders of opportunities. Dedicated outreach and community welcoming efforts are needed to help low-income immigrants gain access to the same opportunities available to all others in the State and country. To address this need, the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) is seeking local leadership to coordinate and conduct outreach to low-income immigrant communities, and to create a grassroots community navigators program to help low-income New Americans.

Who is eligible to apply

Organizations eligible to apply for these funds include Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits who meet the New York State definition of community-based organization (CBO).

Notably, this statewide initiative is not limited to New York City. Just three of the anticipated 14 grantees will be located in the city. The other 11 grantees will be spread out across the remainder of the state, including two dedicated to the upstate area known as “North Country.”

What activities are required under the project

Each grantee organization will be required to carry out a similar slate of activities. These activities will be led by the full-time staff member (“Community Navigator”) funded under the grant. They include:

  • Establishing and leading a monthly Immigrant Integration Roundtable in their local community
  • Conducting a survey of local immigrants regarding important economic and workforce issues facing immigrants in the region, and producing an accompanying research report
  • Collaborating with nonprofit and other partners to develop and implement 10 employment/workforce development workshops and other events each year
  • Developing and overseeing a program to recruit and train community members to become volunteer Community Navigators assisting low-income immigrants in accessing services and resources for which they are eligible
  • Creating curricula and providing bimonthly trainings for volunteer Community Navigators

Each grantee’s staff member will also be responsible for hosting Community Conversations about immigrant integration, leading quarterly tours to help local stakeholders learn more about immigrant integration issues, and coordinating the dissemination of relevant announcements to ethnic media outlets.

How success will be measured

Grant applicants are required to demonstrate that their funded work will address one or more of the CSBG National Performance Goals and Indicators. Most relevant from a workforce perspective is Goal 1: “Low-income people become more self-sufficient.”

Indicators collected for this goal include individuals who obtained or maintained a job; obtained wage or benefit increase; achieved “living wage” employment; obtained skills/competencies required for employment; completed Adult Basic Education or High School Equivalency and received a certificate or diploma; or completed a postsecondary education program and obtained certificate or diploma.

The broader context for this project

New York is one of a handful of states in recent years that have created Offices for New Americans. Such offices are intended to improve the integration of immigrant newcomers into the fabric of their communities, and often focus on economic and workforce-related issues.

Among the activities undertaken by the New York State ONA include the funding of 27 ONA Neighborhood-Based Opportunity Centers around the state, and of legal counsels that will provide legal technical assistance to ONA Opportunity Centers. The ONA also supports activities that are specifically workforce-focused, including a program to help immigrants with STEM backgrounds to find skill-appropriate jobs in the U.S.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, New York

DOL issues new guidance on serving immigrants

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
DOL issues new guidance on serving immigrants

The Department of Labor recently issued a Training and Employment Notice (TEN 28-16) on best practices, partnership models, and resources for serving English language learners, immigrants, and refugees.

The TEN was sent to stakeholders across the public workforce system, including state labor departments, state and local workforce boards, and American Job Centers (formerly known as one-stop centers).

The TEN emphasizes the importance of ensuring that all customers have meaningful access to the public workforce system, and describes notable requirements for federally funded workforce providers under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Sec. 188 and its associated nondiscrimination/Equal Employment Opportunity regulations.

The TEN also reviews specific barriers that both highly educated and less-educated immigrant and refugee jobseekers may face, and ways that those barriers can be overcome, including:

  • Limited English proficiency, which can be addressed through contextualized, workplace-based English language classes
  • Lack of familiarity with US workplace practices, which can be addressed through mock interviews and help in building social capital and professional networks

The guidance also reminds workforce stakeholders that training services under WIOA Title I can include English language training if provided in combination with another training service, and that individuals who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are eligible for WIOA Title I services (see NSC’s prior Q and A on this topic).

Six innovative partnership models for providing workforce services to immigrant and refugee jobseekers are spotlighted in the TEN. They include:

  • The Ready to Work program, offered through the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
  • Project Growing Regional Opportunity for the Workforce (GROW) in McAllen, TX
  • The Silicon Valley Alliance for Language Learners’ Integration, Education, and Success (ALLIES) Innovation Initiative in San Mateo, CA

Finally, the TEN provides copious links to technical assistance resources on issues that may affect immigrant and refugee jobseekers, such as: credentials and licensing; WIOA state plans and policy guidance; English language instruction; research on immigrant workforce integration; and trauma and human trafficking. 

Posted In: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Adult Basic Education, Immigration
New data highlights importance of English classes for immigrant workers in Massachusetts

A new report from the nonprofit English for New Bostonians is providing a unique view of adult English learners in Massachusetts. The report is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class participants at 39 different programs statewide. National Skills Coalition conducted the data analysis for the report, titled Talking Jobs: Lessons from ENB’s 2016 Student Employment Survey.

The analysis found that the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (85%) were in the labor force, including 62% who were currently employed and 23% who were looking for work. Among survey respondents who were working, fully half (50%) said their co-workers also need English classes.

The survey also explored whether respondents’ employers were making investments in their skills and providing opportunities for growth. Respondents who were working were asked whether their company provided benefits such as tuition assistance or reimbursement, fixed schedules, opportunities for promotion, and training to help employees do their jobs better.

Each of these benefits has important implications for English learners:

  • Fixed schedules can make it easier for ESOL students to attend classes regularly. Sixty percent (60%) of respondents reported that they are given a fixed work schedule.
  • In-house training can signal a company’s interest in retaining and promoting workers. Nearly half (49%) of respondents reported that their employer provides them with some type of training.
  • Having opportunities for promotion can inspire workers to build English and other skills in order to move up the career ladder. A relatively small number of respondents (34%) reported having such opportunities at their current job.
  • Tuition assistance is both a symbolic and tangible investment in a worker’s continued upskilling. Just 9% of respondents reported having tuition benefits.

Notably, workers who were employed at larger companies of 50 or more employees were more likely to have access to the above benefits. However, only 43% of working survey respondents were employed at these larger companies.

Other data from the survey provided a vivid illustration of the under-employment of many Massachusetts immigrants. Numerous respondents were working in entry-level positions in the US, despite having held professional jobs in their home countries. Among these respondents were an immigrant architect who is now selling cell phones, an auditor working in a pizzeria, and a dentist making fruit smoothies. Prior research has found that lack of English language skills is a major contributing factor to such under-utilization.

Key conclusions from the report include:

  • There is unmet demand for adult ESOL classes in Massachusetts.
  • Although workers’ direct supervisors are often aware that they are participating in ESOL classes, it is not known whether higher-level managers are similarly informed.
  • Immigrant workers may be unaware of opportunities for promotion at their current place of employment, or may lack such opportunities.
  • The mismatch between a worker's home-country profession and his or her current occupation can be dramatic.
  • There are opportunities to further engage employers in key industry sectors regarding immigrant skill-building issues.

Each of these conclusions is explored in more detail, along with supporting evidence from survey findings, in the full report. A two-page Executive Summary is also available. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts
NSC staff join 300 advocates to talk immigrant skill building in Philadelphia

NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock participated in several events as part of the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network conference last week. The conference brought nearly 300 attendees from ten states to Philadelphia for in-depth discussions of workforce, adult education, cross-cultural, and economic development issues related to immigration in the Rust Belt.

Amanda participated in a panel on Career Pathways for Immigrants, where she talked about opportunities in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to support immigrant skill building. She also shared information about new resources released by National Skills Coalition, including toolkits to help advocates advance state policies on Integrated Education and Training and stackable credentials.

Joining her on the panel were Katherine Gebremedhin of WES Global Talent Bridge and Annie Fenton of the Michigan Office for New Americans. The panel was moderated by Karen Phillippi, also of the Michigan Office for New Americans.

Another conference session focused on immigrant workers in the healthcare arena. The panel featured commentary by Marcia Drew Hohn, formerly of the Immigrant Learning Center and co-author of a new report on the issue, as well as John Hunt, director of a program serving immigrant jobseekers at New York’s LaGuardia Community College. The panel was moderated by Sara McElmurry of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which also released a recent report on the issue. NSC’s Upskilling the New American Workforce report was cited by panelists for its profile of a Minnesota program that supports US-born and immigrant adult students in attaining healthcare credentials.

The conference also examined issues related to equity, including strategies for addressing the needs and concerns of American-born “receiving community” members in places where immigrant newcomers are settling. A final session provided an opportunity to discuss intersections between LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, and immigrant integration advocacy.

Amanda also participated in a pre-conference half-day session hosted by the nonprofit World Education Services (WES). The event was a follow-up to the White House National Skills and Credential Institute held earlier this year. (See our Skills Blog post on that event.)

The WES event brought together nearly 70 attendees, including municipal officials, nonprofit leaders, and other workforce stakeholders, to discuss strategies for addressing immigrant “brain waste” in American communities. The term refers to immigrants who arrive in the US with degrees and credentials from abroad, but end up working in low-wage jobs due to language and other barriers.

Amanda moderated a panel of national experts who provided feedback to attendees on their ideas for addressing brain waste. Panelists included:

  • Carol Aguirre, US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education
  • Peter Gonzales, President and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
  • Suzette Brooks Masters, consultant to philanthropy on immigration issues
  • Karen Phillippi, Deputy Director of the Michigan Office of New Americans

View more about both events by checking out the hashtags #WEConvening and #ImmigrantTalent on social media. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration

New analysis sheds light on young adult English learners

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock ,
New analysis sheds light on young adult English learners

A newly released data analysis is providing a surprising window on young adults who are English learners. The analysis has important implications for adult education and workforce development providers and policymakers.

Titled Older Adolescent and Young Adult English Learners: A Study of Demographics, Policies, and Programs, the report was published by the US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), and written by RTI International. It focuses on young people ages 14-21 who are English learners, including both immigrants and US-born youth. It is based on data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Key findings from the OCTAE report:

  • There are approximately 1.5 million English learners (ELs) ages 14-21 in the United States, including 675,000 who are at the older end of that age range (ages 19-21).
  • A startlingly high percentage of these ELs -- 43% -- were born in the United States. Another 8% are naturalized US citizens, and the remainder are noncitizens. (The dataset used for the analysis does not break down information on the specific type of immigration status that noncitizens have.)
  • Young adult English learners are less likely than their non-EL counterparts to be enrolled in school. More than half (56%) of English learners ages 19-21 are not enrolled in either secondary or postsecondary education, compared to 40% of non-ELs. 
  • More worryingly, a full 40% of English learners ages 19-21 who are not enrolled in school also lack a high school diploma or equivalent. In contrast, only 14% of their non-EL counterparts lack a high school credential.
  • However, many English learners ages 19-21 who are not enrolled in school are holding down jobs. Fully 45% of this group are working full time, and another 15% are working part time. In contrast, non-ELs are less likely to be employed, and also less likely to be full-time workers: 35% are working full time and 23% part time.

From National Skills Coalition’s perspective, each of the above findings has important implications for adult education and skills policy and practice.

First, the sheer size of this adolescent/young adult population is notable, particularly since public discussion of English learners tends to focus either on younger, elementary-school age students or older adults. Second, the data on the number of native-born US citizens who are English learners suggests an area of potential concern, as it implies that a substantial number of young people may have completed both elementary and middle school in the US without becoming proficient in English.*

Third, the findings on school enrollment emphasize the importance of federal investment to support young adults’ English language acquisition and educational attainment beyond their engagement in the K-12 school system.

A major avenue for such investment is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which serves a total of 1.5 million US-born and immigrant individuals each year through adult basic education, high school equivalency, and English language classes.

Some of the individuals served by WIOA are likely represented among the English learners profiled in the OCTAE data analysis. In particular, separate data from the National Reporting System shows that 15% of participants (104,000 people) in WIOA-funded English language classes are between the ages of 16-24.

Adult education classes can provide an important on-ramp to further education and/or employment opportunities for young adult English learners. However, WIOA services are not funded at the full authorized levels, and there is greater demand for adult education services than can be met with current funding. National Skills Coalition has called for increased federal funding for adult education.

Another federal policy that can support education and training, including English language acquisition, is SNAP Employment and Training. National Skills Coalition has published numerous resources on SNAP E&T, and profiled a Seattle program that is funded in part by this source in our recent Upskilling the New American Workforce report.

The high number of young adults in the OCTAE data analysis who do not have a high school credential is also of concern given that some of these young people are likely to be undocumented, and may be eligible for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which requires applicants to be “in school.” Young people who are enrolled in eligible adult education programs can satisfy this enrollment requirement, but as described above, there are insufficient class slots available to meet the demand.

Finally, the OCTAE report findings on employment present a mixed picture. While the relatively high rates of employment for English learners suggest that they are finding their way into the job market, it is not clear that they have access to the training and credentials that will allow them to earn higher wages over time.

For this reason, it is important to support policies that can help young adults who are already in the workforce to continue building their skills and earn industry-recognized credentials. This can be done by making federal financial aid more accessible to working learners, and building stronger connections between Perkins Career and Technical Education programs and adult education programs, among other strategies.

*Without further analysis, it is not possible to know how many of these young people may have been educated in Puerto Rico, a US territory that has a bilingual K-12 education system. It is unlikely that any substantial percentage were born in the US and then raised abroad before returning as teenagers, which would be another potential explanation for why US-born adolescents are English learners.



Posted In: Immigration
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