The Asian and Pacific Islander Population in the
U.S. ERIC Digest.
by Schwartz, Wendy
There are an estimated 12 million Asian and Pacific Islander Americans
(APIAs) in the United States, or about 4 percent of the total population
(compared with African Americans, at 12 percent, and Latinos, at 11 percent).
APIAs comprise one of the fastest growing groups in the nation; over the
last decade there was a 69 percent growth in that population, and their
number is expected to reach 20 million by 2020. Most APIAs reside in urban
areas, but the differences among their various groups are often greater
than their similarities.
High fertility rates and the immigration of APIAs are major reasons
for the anticipated increase in their number. Children are becoming an
even more significant proportion of the APIA population, and will constitute
an increasingly larger segment of the public school population. Schools
will need to become knowledgeable about the unique qualities of APIA students
and their families and respond to their special educational and social
This digest, drawn from the most recent statistics collected, including
2000 Census data where available, synthesizes information on Asian and
Pacific Islander American children and their families. The digest's goal
is twofold: (1) to help educators working with this population better understand
their backgrounds and living conditions, in order to provide the children
with effective educational and other services and to communicate effectively
and sensitively with their families; and (2) to help policy makers and
program developers equitably allocate resources for these services based
on accurate information about local concentrations of APIAs. A bibliography
of the sources used here appears at the end of the digest for those interested
in obtaining more data.
THE ETHNIC MAKEUP OF APIAS
The nation's APIA population is diverse. APIAs may originate from either
the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent. They comprise
at least seven different ethnicities, including (in descending order of
proportion) Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese,
and Hawaiian. Asian Indians are the fastest growing group, whereas the
number of Japanese in the U.S. has declined over the last decade.
Because of the great differences in their places of origin, ethnicities,
and number of generations in the U.S., the various APIA groups vary widely
in many characteristics, such as language, religion, beliefs, and health
IMMIGRATION AND NATIVITY OF APIAS
The percentage of foreign born differs widely among APIA groups; for
example, in 2000, only 23 percent of Japanese Americans were immigrants
as compared with 76 percent of Vietnamese Americans. Overall, 49.2 percent
of APIAs are foreign born, a decline of over 17 percentage points from
the previous decade, indicating that the share of foreign-born APIAs is
Asians have generally opted to become naturalized citizens rather than
permanent resident aliens in the U.S., if they are able to meet the requirements.
In fact, Asians have tended to become naturalized at a faster rate than
have immigrants from other countries. Naturalization status allows them
access to a variety of Federal and state services unavailable to other
PLACES OF RESIDENCE IN THE U.S.
* All APIAs. The U.S. West--California, Hawaii, and Texas, in particular--is
home to nearly half of all APIAs. More than two-thirds of Hawaii's population
consists of APIAs. APIAs comprise 12 percent of California's total population;
36 percent of the total U.S. APIA population lives in California. Two East
Coast states--New York and New Jersey--also have significant APIA populations.
The cities with the largest Asian population are New York, Los Angeles,
* Immigrants. Nearly one-third of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants
reside in California, with two cities--Los Angeles and San Francisco--accounting
for nearly a quarter of the nation's APIA immigrant population.
COMMUNITY AND FAMILY LIFE
Like immigrants of other ethnicities, many first-generation Asian groups
established their own communities within U.S. cities. Decades ago, Chinatowns
were established in several cities; more recently, Korean and the various
Indochinese immigrants and refugees established their own urban enclaves.
Filipino and Asian Indian immigrants, on the other hand, scattered throughout
Local services developed in these separate communities enabled APIA
immigrants of a single ethnicity to learn English and to make a transition
into a new life. Cultural and linguistic supports continued to benefit
the families who remained in those communities. For example, local health
services provide accessible, affordable, and culturally competent care
to community members in their native language. Nevertheless, each succeeding
generation of immigrants tends to scatter into less segregated areas.
APIA households are larger than the U.S. average: 4.1 Asians and 3.8
Pacific Islanders per household as compared with the nation's overall rate
of 3.2. In urban areas, where most APIAs reside, overcrowding is a problem;
APIAs are eight times more likely than whites to live in a home with more
than one person per room.
Educational completion rates of the various Asians and Pacific Islander
groups differ widely. In 1999, when 6.6 million APIAs and 130.4 million
non-Hispanic whites 25 years and older lived in the U.S., 42 percent of
APIAs had a bachelor's degree while only 28 percent of non-Hispanic whites
had one. A higher proportion of men than women in both groups earned a
bachelor's degree: for APIAs, 46 percent and 39 percent; and for non-Hispanic
whites, 31 percent and 25 percent.
The high school graduation rate was nearly the same for both groups:
85 percent for APIAs and 88 percent for non-Hispanic whites. However, while
only 5 percent of non-Hispanic whites had less than a ninth grade education,
8 percent of APIAs had such limited schooling.
There are wide differences in educational completion among the APIA
groups. For example, in 1990 (the last year for which such data are available)
the Asian Indian and Japanese high school graduation rates were higher
than the average APIA rate, but only 31 percent of Hmong graduated from
APIAs as a group share no common language. Indeed, they may speak one
of 100 languages and dialects. Even within an ethnic group, such as the
Chinese, there may be no common verbal language.
Nearly two-thirds of APIAs speak an Asian or Pacific Islander language
at home. Over one-third do not live in communities where their native language
is spoken. The English language proficiency of Pacific Islanders is least
limited; it is most limited for Southeast Asians.
APIA children speak English at home at a higher rate than Latinos of
their same generation of nativity, according to the 1990 Census. Nearly
11 percent of first generation APIA children speak English at home, compared
with less than 3 percent of Latinos. For second generation children, the
APIA rate rises to nearly 50 percent (16 percent for Latinos), and for
the third generation, it is more than 85 percent (66 percent for Latinos).
Support for English language learning and the availability of translators
are limited for APIAs, with speakers of some languages often nearly totally
isolated in many social and health services settings. Even in parts of
the U.S. with a sizable APIA population, some specific services for limited
English speaking APIAs, such as recovery programs, are nonexistent.
Income. In 1997 the overall median income of APIA families and non-Hispanic
whites was comparable: over $45,000 compared with nearly $41,000. There
is, however, great economic diversity among APIA groups. For example, in
1990, the income of Japanese Americans exceeded that of non-Hispanic whites,
whereas Cambodian Americans earned less than African American families.
Then, in 2000, Japanese Americans were outearned by Asian Indians, while
Vietnamese immigrants had the lowest income among APIAs. In general, income
level rises along with the number of generations a group has been in the
Poverty Levels. The poverty rates for different APIA groups also vary
widely. In 1997 the overall poverty rate for APIAs was 14 percent--higher
than the 9 percent rate for non-Hispanic whites, but lower than the 27
percent rate for African Americans and Latinos. More than 20 percent of
APIA families had incomes below $25,000, as compared with 19 percent of
non-Hispanic white families.
Within the APIA population, more than 60 percent of Hmong Americans
and 40 percent of Cambodian Americans were living in poverty, but only
7 percent of Japanese Americans and 6 percent of Filipino Americans were
below the poverty line.
About 18 percent of APIAs younger than 18 were poor in 1998, compared
with 11 percent of non-Hispanic white children.
The employment and unemployment rates of APIAs in 1999 were equivalent
to those of non-Hispanic whites, with men represented more heavily in both
groups. Overall, APIAs are more highly concentrated in managerial and professional
specialty occupations (i.e, doctors, lawyers, engineers) than are non-Hispanic
whites: 37 percent and 33 percent.
The two manufacturing sectors with a concentration of APIA immigrants
are the garment industry, which employs women primarily, and the electronics
industry in Silicon Valley. Both sectors frequently pay workers by the
piece completed, with the result that immigrants earn less than the minimum
wage. Both sectors also offer poor working conditions, and individuals
who work at home often expose their families to hazardous materials.
APIA immigrants, given their smaller number, are also overrepresented
in the small business sector: in 1997, APIAs owned 1.1 million small businesses,
compared with 1.4 million for Latinos and 880,000 for African Americans.
In general, according to Marguerite Ro (2002), minority-owned businesses
suffer from small profits that translate into underpaid employees, the
recruitment of family members as unpaid labor, and no health benefits for
anyone. Large families provide APIA business owners with more resources
than other minority owners, but language problems and a dependence on ethnic
clientele can mitigate any other advantages.
Barnes, J.S., & Bennett, C.E. (2002, February). The Asian population:
2000. Census 2002 Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S.
Humes, K., & McKinnon, J. (1999, March.) The Asian and Pacific Islander
population in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce,
U.S. Census Bureau. (ED 453 344)
Logan, J.R., Stowell, J., & Vesselinov. (2001, October). From many
shores: Asians in Census 2000. Albany: State University of New York, Albany,
Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research.
Metzger, J., & Booza, J. (2002). Asians in the United States, Michigan
and Metropolitan Detroit. Detroit: Wayne State University, Center for Urban
Ro, M. (2002). Overview of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United
States and California. Washington, DC: Center for Policy Alternatives.