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Biden Mangles Statistic About Hispanic Students

This article is available in both English and Español

Para leer en español, vea esta traducción de El Tiempo Latino.

According to the Department of Education, about 28% of U.S. students are Hispanic. According to Census Bureau data, about 15% of U.S. students speak Spanish at home. And about 21% of students come from homes where at least one person speaks Spanish.

Three different statistics. Three different numbers.

But in remarks to Latino audiences whose votes he hopes to win, President Joe Biden routinely conflates these statistics, sometimes in the course of the same speech or interview.

For example, in remarks at a Cinco de Mayo reception at the White House on May 6, Biden called Latinos “the future of our nation.”

“You know, everybody says … why have I always been so fundamentally focused on Latinos,” Biden said. “Simple proposition: You make up 28% of the students in America. Think — think about it. Twenty-eight percent of all the students in high school and grade school in America are Latino.”

Right so far. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics says that by the fall of 2021, about 28% of students enrolled in public schools in prekindergarten through 12th grade were Hispanic/Latino.

But later in the speech, Biden said, “You know, when you have 28% of all the students in our schools up to high school — 28% speaking Spanish, how in God’s name can we not pay attention?”

That’s not accurate. It assumes all Hispanic students speak Spanish, and they do not.

We wouldn’t normally write about an elected official botching a statistic that he had repeatedly gotten right on other occasions. But in this case, it’s a statistic Biden has mangled numerous times, and for years.

For example, on a Spanish-language radio show recorded May 6, Biden was asked why it was important for him to have events like the Cinco de Mayo reception.

Photo by Louis-Photo / stock.adobe.com.

“The Hispanic community’s part of the future of America,” Biden said. “Twenty-eight out of every 100 students in school speak Spanish — 28! The idea that we’d ignore that? That’s our future.” (The Republican National Committee called Biden out on that one, commenting on X, “He completely made that statistic up.” But Biden didn’t invent the figure; he confused it with a different statistic, as this story makes clear.) 

On other occasions, Biden has cited similar figures as the percentage of students who come from Spanish-speaking homes, as he did in an April 9 interview on Univision and in remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus gala on Sept. 21, 2022.

Analyzing data from the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, concluded that about 21% of U.S. students live in a home where at least one person speaks Spanish.

In fairness, Biden has gotten the statistic right numerous times as well, such as during remarks at the Americas Economic Leadership Summit on Nov. 3, when he said, “About a quarter of the children in our public schools today are Hispanic.” But quite often, Biden conflates the percentage of Hispanic students in the U.S. with the percentage of U.S. students who speak Spanish.

The mix-up prompted PolitiFact to weigh in with two fact-checks when Biden repeatedly got it wrong on the campaign trail in September 2020, and again in June.

At least once, the White House press office has corrected the president in the official transcript. When Biden, in remarks at a Hispanic Heritage Month reception on Sept. 30, 2022, said, “Twenty-six percent of every single child who’s in school today speaks Spanish,” the press office later clarified that he meant “is Latino.”

There is a difference between being Latino and speaking Spanish. According to the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, about 45% of Hispanics born in the U.S. speak only English. Another 45% speak another language but also speak English “very well.” As one would expect, a far smaller percentage of foreign-born Hispanic people — who make up about a third of the Hispanic population in the country — speak only English (6.5%) or speak another language but also speak English “very well” (31%).

According to Passel of the Pew Research Center, the American Community Survey shows about 26% of K-12 students are Hispanic (a little higher for public than private school). That’s close to the 28% cited by Biden, and, as we said, the Department of Education reports the figure as 28%.

As for the percentage of U.S. students who speak Spanish, the American Community Survey questions don’t make it easy to answer that precisely.

Analyzing available data from the survey — not whether someone speaks Spanish, but whether it is “spoken at home” — for those aged 5 and over, Passel said about 15% of K-12 students speak Spanish at home, representing about 55% of the Hispanic students. We looked at the survey data another way — people aged 5 to 17 (so school age but not necessarily students) — and found, similarly, nearly 15% of that population speaks Spanish.

Analyzing 2022 American Community Survey data — the latest available — Passel estimated the share of K-12 students who come from a home where somebody speaks Spanish is 21%.

Again, Biden mixes up these statistics, often inflating the percentage of students who speak Spanish.

We reached out to the White House press office for comment or backup for the president’s claims, but we did not get a response.

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