A Boon for the Bilingual?

President Bush has made ratifying the Central American Free Trade Agreement his top trade priority for the year, but many American workers are still unclear what effect it would have on their livelihoods. Even as the prospect of the deal passing scares some U.S. workers -- namely those in the sugar industry -- the pact could very well prove a boon to others: those who speak Spanish.

And there are plenty of them. The 2000 Census found 29 million people in the United States speaking Spanish at home, with a few states having particularly large concentrations of Spanish-speakers: California had 5.5 million, Texas had 3.4 million, New York had 1.8 million and Florida had 1.5 million.

Many other Americans have studied Spanish as a second language, making it the most popular language class offered in the country by a wide margin.

They will find greater opportunity to put those language skills to work if the economic benefits predicted by CAFTA's backers materialize. The greatest gains are projected for those states that already have the greatest number of Spanish-speakers.

Maybe you should have paid attention in Spanish class after all.

-- Mary Ellen Slayter