Considerations on ELL/Immigrant Populations for City Council’s Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention

Jobs and Education Public Hearing

City Council’s Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention

Testimony provided by:   Claire Pope, Program Manager, Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative, Temple University –

Testimony provided on:  December 5, 2019 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Testimony provided at:    Written

My name is Claire Pope, and I am the Program Manager at Temple University’s Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative (LNPWI). At LNPWI, one of our priority populations is English Language Learners (ELL) and immigrants. I would like to urge the Committee to strongly consider also adding a special focus on the immigrants and ELL population of Philadelphia—particularly in jobs and education. 

In North Philadelphia, and across the city, immigrants make up a significant portion of our population and labor force. According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s 2018 report, “Philadelphia’s Immigrants”, over a quarter of Philadelphians are either immigrants or have parents who are immigrants. Of this, it is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 Philadelphians in the labor force are immigrants. This is a huge shift from the number of immigrants living and working in Philadelphia just a few decades ago. In fact, the number of residents who are immigrants has doubled since 1990, making this population one of the most significant drivers of Philadelphia’s population.

This steady influx of new foreign-born residents has had a significant positive impact on the city. For example, the population growth brought on by immigration has been a catalyst for the community capacity building, small business development, economic growth, and diversity that keeps our city and workplaces healthy, innovative, culturally competent, and globally significant. 

Despite the innumerable contributions that immigrants have made to the city,  many individuals in this population are not thriving here. Pew found that 14% of residents experiencing poverty are immigrants, which translates to about 24% of the total immigrant population. While this is slightly lower than the rate for domestic-born residents, the poverty rate has been increasing among immigrants at a faster rate than native residents.

 Across the city, the median income for immigrants is slightly lower than non-immigrants indicating that overall, this population has less access to sustainable employment opportunities. This is supported by data, which shows that immigrants are most frequently employed in jobs that traditionally lack sustainable wages or pathways for upward mobility such as housekeeping, cashier, nursing care, and construction jobs. In addition, nearly one third of adult immigrants do not have a high school diploma–a rate that has increased since 2000, while the rates of native-born residents without a high school diploma has decreased. This is significant, since lower educational attainment is highly associated with lower wages and fewer opportunities for employment and employment advancement. Finally, the rate of immigrants with low levels of English proficiency has increased significantly between 2000-2016 to 30%. This is another complicating factor for employment since low english-proficiency is linked to lower income. 

Given the data–the need for interventions focusing the immigrants in our community is a vital part of reducing and preventing poverty citywide. Temple University’s LNPWI is currently partnering with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and other organizations that serve ELL and Immigrant communities to better understand how we can address the challenges that hinder ELL and immigrants from obtaining sustainable employment and also to find ways to uplift the strengths that make ELL and immigrants a major asset to the labor force. Preliminary conversations with stakeholders revealed some key strategies and considerations that they believe would begin forging a path of economic stability for all immigrants and ELL:

First, in line with the “Narrowing the Gap” report’s goal to “Sponsor Programs to Support Hiring and Training Entry-Level Worker”, stakeholders suggested increasing support for workforce development programs and opportunities that leverage and maximize the skills and experiences that individuals have gained from their home countries, digital literacy training, and also programs that prepare immigrants and ELL to thrive in the American workplace. 

On the other end of the spectrum for the goal of “Sponsoring Programs to Support Hiring and Training Entry-Level Workers”, stakeholders acknowledged that realistically some employers are not ready to employ immigrants. This may be because they do not yet view diversity as an asset to their workplace, have staff that are not culturally competent, or simply because they do not have policies and procedures in place to recruit and on-board immigrants such as a multilingual job descriptions or training materials. Because of this opportunity gap, strategies for achieving this goal should include preparing employers to adequately recruit, onboard, and retain employees who are immigrants.

Finally,  to advance several of the Committee’s goals–particularly for the immigrant communities– the stakeholders emphasized the importance of supporting diverse pathways to sustainable employment. This is particularly important for stakeholder because For the ELL and immigrant populations, while higher education and job training can be a critical in-road, it is not the only way to secure meaningful employment. For example, many immigrants come to the country with a wealth of experience and education. Therefore programs which support them in transferring their foreign skills and credentials to American employment opportunities such as job counseling, job placement programs, job readiness training, and entrepreneurship should also be a priority. This benefits both the individual and the city by fast-tracking the transition between training and employment, thus bringing skilled candidates into the talent pool more quickly. 

The full report of feedback from stakeholders and additional suggestions can be read in our “Voice from the Community: Strategies for ESL and Immigrant Populations” report our website at

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

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