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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

How to Engage Low-Literacy and Limited-English-Proficiency Populations in Transportation Decisionmaking

What are ways to access documented indicators of literacy and limited English proficiency at a sub-State level?

The National Adult Literacy Survey found that low literacy skills were closely connected to economic, social, and personal issues such as:

These and other indicators and/or surrogates of low literacy and limited English proficiency are addressed by a variety of Federal, State, county, and city agencies; municipal organizations; private associations; and corporations.

...U.S. Census

The U.S. Census website ( provides information on a variety of indicators and/or surrogates of literacy and/ or limited English proficiency. Information is available for county and a variety of sub-county levels in tabular and thematic map formats. Some of the indicators and/or surrogates found in the 2000 Census include:

Map of Saint Louis region identifying minority populations by census tract. Detail too small to be useful - for demonstration purposes only.

St. Louis Region identified minority populations by Census tract.

Map of Saint Louis region identifying poverty distribution by census tract. Detail too small to be useful - for demonstration purposes only.

St. Louis Region identified poverty distribution by Census tract.

...U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service website ( provides a variety of thematic maps of county-level information for 1990 and 2000 populations, and migration by Environmental Justice populations, and 1999/2000 labor, education, income, poverty, and welfare.

Map of the United States by the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifying metro and nonmetro-persistent poverty counties, 1970 to 2000. Detail too small to be of use - for demonstration purposes only.
Metro persistent poverty Other Metro
U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies metro and nonmetro persistent poverty counties (1970-2000).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Stamp program website ( provides thematic maps of county-level information for 1999 per capita poverty and per capita Food Stamp program participation.

The Free and Reduced Price Meal programs are two low-income programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through public and private school systems. Eligibility for these two programs is based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' annual low-income standards. Eligibility for the Free Meal program is based on 130 percent of the annual low-income standards, and eligibility for the Reduced Price Meal program is based on 185 percent of the annual low-income standards.

When using the Free and Reduced Price Meal programs eligibility numbers, elementary and middle school numbers provide better accuracy than the high school numbers. High school students are often embarrassed and do not want anyone to know they are on the Free and Reduced Price Meal programs; therefore, some of them do not accept meal cards and their numbers are underreported.

Information collected at the elementary-school level gives a more focused picture of the population within a smaller area because these schools have a smaller attendance boundary than middle and high schools. In some cases, such as rural areas, elementary-school attendance boundaries can provide information at almost the equivalent of Census block group or block levels. Some rural counties have only one high school, which will not provide any detailed information as to where the populations are located within the county.

Map of the United States showing counties with the highest per capita Food Stamp program Participation. The darkest colors indicate the highest participation. Detail is too small to be of use. For demonstration purposes only.

U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the counties with the highest per capita Food Stamp program participation in the darkest color (1999).

...U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education requires that every State Department of Education (or the equivalent) prepare an annual "Report Card" for each public school within that State. They are required to make this information available upon request on their website or through the individual county school system. Some of these "Report Cards" provide information about race and ethnicity, eligibility for the Free and Reduced Price Meal programs, migrant status, number of limited-English-proficiency students, reading scores, and a variety of other topics. Because of the differences in the organizational structures within each State's Department of Education, this information can be identified in different ways and is sometimes difficult to locate.

Each State's Department of Education has an Adult and Community Education, and English as a Second Language (ESL) program or an equivalent. The State Director can provide up-to-date information about adult literacy and ESL at the county level. They can provide the name of the ESL Coordinator at each public school and the name of the county Adult-Literacy Coordinator.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics website ( provides student information for every public school in the Nation. This information is collected every August at the beginning of each school year and is never more than 24 months old. The website provides contact information for each school, total number of students, number of students by race, number of students participating in the Free and Reduced Price Meal programs, and number of migrant students. This information is available in a spreadsheet for all schools during the past school year by county or city, and for each school individually. In addition, historic information is available for most schools as early as the 2001 school year. Having yearly information provides a real-time picture of the student population's diversity.

Information on race provides a breakdown by number of White, African American, Asian (includes Pacific Islanders), Hispanic, and American Indian (includes Alaskan Natives) students. This information can provide insight into the number of families that may speak a language other than English, or in addition to English. Asking the school principal and the ESL Coordinator can provide additional insight into the language capabilities and literacy levels of the students' parents. It is important to note that the U.S. Department
of Education regards Hispanics as a race, whereas, the U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanics as being of an ethnicity.

...individual State initiatives

Each State's Office of Research and Statistics, or equivalent, compiles information on recipients of low-income programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This information can be overlaid on Census tracts and is collected on a more frequent basis than the decennial Census. These State offices will provide this information to other State agencies through interagency agreements. The Office of Research and Statistics is often a part of or associated with a State's Census data center.

...county agencies

Each State has a Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and an Employment Security Commission or the equivalent. Identifying the county Adult Education, ESL, Social Service, and Employment Security Commission representatives and bringing them to the table can provide a picture of the community and how they serve them.

...municipal organizations

City, county and multi-county organizations such as Councils of Governments (COG) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) often compile information relative to low-income status. The Charlotte County-Punta Gorda MPO in Florida utilizes housing-value information obtained from the county tax assessor's office and maps this information. Those single-family units assessed at $25,000 or less were considered to be units that low income families could afford. This survey resulted in the identification of three previously unidentified lowincome communities. Depending upon when tax assessor information is updated or how frequently countywide and/or citywide appraisals occur, this information may be more current than Census information and more area specific.

Map of the State of Missoursi which identifies the location of Free and Reduced Price Meals Programs' recipients by county. Counties are color coded into three groups but are not named: 12.6% to 33.4%; 33.4% to 42.5%; and 42.5% to 89.8%. The entire state is rated at 35.6%.

Missouri identifies the location of Free and Reduced Price Meal programs' recipients by county.

Map of the Charlotte County-Punta Gorda Metropolitan Planning Organization area showing color-coded areas which identify low income areas. The areas are not identified otherwise. The map is for domstration purposes only.

The Charlotte County-Punta Gorda MPO utilizes housing value information to identify low-income areas.

...Modern Language Association

The Modern Language Association is a private association. Its website ( provides information extrapolated from the 2000 Census on the top 30 languages spoken in every State, county, and zip code in the Nation by the number of speakers. This information is presented in tables and thematic maps. The website also provides the number of speakers by different age groups. This can provide insight into limited English proficiency.

...GreatSchools, Inc.

GreatSchools, Inc. is a non-profit organization. Its website ( provides information about public, private, and charter schools in all 50 States and detailed school profiles for Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Texas, and Washington. This site also provides State averages for race, ethnicity, and number of students eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Meal programs. In addition, this site provides information about student reading levels that, in turn, can provide insight into their parents' reading ability.

Map of the State of Wisconsin which shows the number of Hmong speakers by county. The map is for demonstration purposes only.

Modern Language Association identifies the number of Hmong speakers for every county in Wisconsin.

1. U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder, Glossary, Summary File (SF), ( (accessed December 3, 2005).

2. U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder, Glossary, Demographic Profile (DP), ( (accessed December 3, 2005).

3. U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder, Glossary, Hispanic or Latino origin, ( (accessed December 3, 2005)

Updated: 2/12/2015
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