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Lack of English Instruction Causes High Jobless Rate in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans not being taught English is keeping many out of the labor market in the territory, according to experts interviewed by Caribbean Business, a respected English-language newspaper focusing on business and the economy as well as other news in Puerto Rico.

“These workers become or remain unemployable, at least for upward-mobility jobs that command decent pay,” according to an article published today.

“[L]ack of English proficiency hurts the local economy, “ it reported.

The paper quoted an executive employment firm head as saying that, “Without being able to effectively read, write and speak English, regardless of a candidate’s other qualifications, they aren’t considered for these positions.”

The article was prompted by a professional poll for the paper and English language WOSO radio station in Puerto Rico. It found 28% of those interviewed to be fluent in English, down from 33% in 2011.

The poll had an error margin of .9%. The decrease could be due to Puerto Ricans moving to the States for greater social program and employment opportunities. Hundreds of thousands have moved to take advantage of a better life under statehood in recent years. The U.S. Census Bureau last year reported that 76,218 Puerto Ricans moved to the States during the prior year period calculated.

In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill stating that “it is in the best interest of the United States for the teaching of English to be promoted in Puerto Rico as the language of opportunity and empowerment.” The legislation expressed a goal of enabling students in Puerto Rico’s “public schools to achieve English language proficiency.”

Puerto Rico is very unequally treated compared to the States, however, in the Federal program funding English language education in schools for students with limited knowledge of English. Funding in the States is based on the number of students needing the help. Grants to Puerto Rico are limited to .5% of the program’s funding — although the territory’s percentage of the national public school student population without substantial English language ability is many times larger.

“Commonwealth” party administrations in Puerto Rico have not wanted to teach most public school students English, although knowledge of English is critical to the incomes of many Puerto Ricans — whether they stay in the islands or move to the States. ‘Commonwealthers’ have appeared to fear that greater English language ability in Puerto Rico would lead to greater support for statehood in the territory.

The party has also worked with small groups in the States that want English to be the official language of the country to oppose statehood for Puerto Rico in Congress.

Their efforts have led to amendments to two of the Puerto Rico status choice bills that the U.S. House has passed to require that English be the exclusive language of the government of a State of Puerto Rico. In both cases, the amendments were defeated. This occurred in 1998, in a House dominated by Republicans, and in 2010, in the bill that called for greater English education in Puerto Rico in a House with a Democratic majority.

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