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English-Language Proficiency and Occupational Risk Among Hispanic Immigrant Men in the United States





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    •  The authors’ affiliations are, respectively, Professor and V.F. “Doc” and Gertrude M. Neuhaus Chair for Entrepreneurship, Department of Economics and Finance, The University of Texas–Pan American, Edinburg, TX. E-mail:; Professor of Economics, Department of Economics and Finance, The University of Texas–Pan American, Edinburg, TX. E-mail:; Assistant Professor of Finance, School of Business, University of North Carolina–Pembroke, Pembroke, NC. E-mail: We sincerely thank Ronald L. Oaxaca, Steven Raphael, Frank Neuhauser, the seminar participants in the Integrated Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) Program at the University of California, Berkeley, and two referees for their helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. All errors in fact or interpretation are our own.
      JEL codes: J28, J31, J61


We use data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, and the 2000 U.S. decennial census to analyze how occupational risk relates to the earnings of Hispanic immigrant men. Our findings indicate that those with limited English-language fluency received significantly higher compensating wages in unsafe jobs than their English-fluent counterparts. The larger occupational-risk premiums accrued by limited-English-proficient (LEP) foreign-born Hispanic men also hold when further including U.S.-born Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic White men in the sample. These findings are consistent with underlying differences in preferences toward wages versus safety between LEP and English-proficient workers and/or differences in coverage under formal workers’ compensation programs, perhaps because undocumented workers (many of whom already faced hazardous conditions when migrating illegally to work in the United States) comprise a disproportionate share of the LEP. However, our data and methodologies do not allow us to determine whether these premiums adequately compensate the LEP for the occupational risk they undertake.