Children Living in Limited English-Speaking Households

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Learn More About Immigrants

Measures of Immigrants on
On, measures related to foreign-born and limited English-speaking populations include the following:
Depending on the indicator, data are available as one- and five-year estimates for the nation, state, and counties and/or county groups, and as five-year estimates for cities, school districts, and legislative districts.
Bullying and Harassment at School
Family Income and Poverty
Student Demographics
School Climate
Math Proficiency
Reading Proficiency
Why This Topic Is Important
U.S. children of foreign-born parents represent a large and growing segment of the population (1). In 2018, this group, comprised overwhelmingly of native-born citizens, accounted for roughly a quarter of the nation's child population and nearly half of children in California (1, 2, 3). California has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in the country, the majority of whom are naturalized citizens or have other documented status (3).

Although immigrants are more likely to be employed than their U.S.-born counterparts, children with foreign-born parents are more likely than other children to live in poverty (1, 4, 5). Children in immigrant families also are more likely to have parents with low educational attainment, to live in limited English-speaking households, to lack health insurance coverage and a usual source of health care, and to report poorer health status compared with children of native-born parents (1, 5, 6). It is therefore important for local and state government, schools, health care systems, and community organizations to address the needs of these children and families, support their strengths, and work to eliminate service barriers.
For more information on this topic please see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Woods, T., & Hanson, D. (2016). Demographic trends of children of immigrants. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

2.  As cited on, Children living with foreign-born parents. (2021). U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.

3.  Johnson, H., et al. (2021). Immigrants in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

4.  Costa, D., et al. (2014). Facts about immigration and the U.S. economy. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from:

5.  Woods, T., et al. (2016). Children of immigrants: 2013 state trends update. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

6.  Calvo, R., & Hawkins, S. S. (2015). Disparities in quality of healthcare of children from immigrant families in the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 19(10), 2223-2232. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
Nearly half (47%) of California children live with at least one foreign-born parent, compared with roughly a quarter (26%) of children nationwide, according to 2018 estimates. Among these children of foreign-born parents, statewide and nationally, one in five lives below the federal poverty threshold. Across counties with data in 2014-2018, Santa Clara had the highest percentage of children living with foreign-born parents, at 64%, while Tuolumne had the lowest, at 7%.

In 2018, 9% of California children lived in households in which no one age 14 or older spoke English very well, down from 15% in 2007. At the county level, estimates of children living in limited English-speaking households vary widely across regions with data, from less than 2% (Calaveras; Del Norte; Siskiyou) to more than 20% (Monterey) in 2014-2018.

According to 2018 estimates, 2% of California children ages 0-4, 6% of children ages 5-17, and 15% of young adults ages 18-24 were born outside the U.S. Since 2007, the percentage of foreign-born children ages 0-4 has remained relatively stable while the share of foreign-born Californians ages 5-24 has declined.
Policy Implications
California is a leader in supportive immigrant policies, with major legislation passed in recent years aimed at supporting better outcomes for children of immigrants, reducing health disparities, and helping foreign-born Californians participate in and contribute to society (1, 2). The state also offers benefits to immigrants that would not be available under federal law, such as Medi-Cal for undocumented children (1, 3). However, enforcement of federal immigration regulations can have negative effects on families; e.g., the deportation of a parent or caregiver can cause psychological trauma, housing instability, and financial problems, which may have long-term adverse consequences for children's health and development (4, 5).

While California has made many strides, much more work is needed, especially given the lack of an effective national immigration system and the uncertain future of federal immigration policy (1, 6). Leaders must continue working toward improved systems that prioritize the well being of vulnerable children, while also preserving the limited support currently available to immigrant families (1, 6, 7). In addition, future policy directions should take into account the contributions of immigrants, including their significant role in meeting current and future workforce needs and positive impact on long-term economic growth (8, 9).

Policy options that could influence the well being of immigrant children and families include:
  • Promoting federal policy changes that provide immigrant families with supports to maintain and strengthen family unity, such as basic assistance and child welfare services, and efficient pathways to citizenship (5, 6, 7)
  • Maintaining and effectively implementing California's pro-immigrant policies, as state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement increases economic hardship among low-income children in immigrant families, with no benefit to children of native-born parents (1, 2, 4)
  • Supporting efforts to create coordinated systems serving immigrant families that facilitate consistent access to linguistically and culturally appropriate health care, along with quality education, child care, interpretation, and legal services (6, 7)
  • Addressing the needs of dual-language learners in early childhood programs and English learners in public schools through evidence-based resources and practices that engage families and recognize sociocultural influences on language learning (10)
For more information on this topic, see’s Research & Links section or visit Urban Institute and California Immigrant Policy Center. Also see Policy Implications under Student Demographics on

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Villareal, G. (2015). The California blueprint: Two decades of pro-immigrant transformation. California Immigrant Policy Center. Retrieved from:

2.  California Immigrant Policy Center. (2017). Legislative update - End of session 2017. Retrieved from:

3.  California Department of Health Care Services. (n.d.). SB 75 - Full scope Medi-Cal for all children. Retrieved from:

4.  Gelatt, J., et al. (2017). State immigration enforcement policies: How they impact low-income households. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

5.  Capps, R., et al. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families: A review of the literature. Urban Institute & Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from:

6.  Linton, J. M., et al. (2017). Detention of immigrant children. Pediatrics, 139(5), e20170483. Retrieved from:

7.  Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. (2015). Blueprint for a better America: Ensuring our immigration system advances the health and well-being of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and all immigrants. Retrieved from:

8.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The economic and fiscal consequences of immigration. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

9.  Myers, D. (2017). The new importance of children in America. Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health & Childrens Hospital Association. Retrieved from:

10.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Promoting the educational success of children and youth learning English: Promising futures. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Immigrants