New Report Charts Dramatic Asian American Population Growth, Electoral Implications

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SAN FRANCISCO – The Asian American population in the U.S. grew faster than any other racial group over the past decade, according to a new report released Oct. 26 by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice).

Growing 46 percent between 2000 and 2010, the Asian American population nationwide now numbers more than 17 million and is poised to influence next year’s presidential election.

Based on the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies, “A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans in the United States, 2011” found that although the largest Asian American communities remain in California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and Hawaii, communities in Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and New Hampshire were the fastest-growing over the past decade.

“Asian American communities are growing fastest in states likely to be contentious in next year’s presidential election,” said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC). “The report should be a wake-up call to political parties that Asian Americans are an emerging political force, not only in California, New York or Hawaii, but throughout the country.”

However, the report found that while record numbers of Asian Americans voted during the 2008 general election, only 68 percent of those old enough to vote are citizens and 55 percent of those eligible to register to vote have done so.

“More naturalization, voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts are needed if Asian Americans are to maximize their political potential,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC). “Language assistance at the polls is also critical.”

According to the report, 60 percent of Asian Americans are foreign-born, the highest proportion born abroad of any racial group nationwide, and roughly one in three are limited-English-proficient (LEP) and face challenges communicating in English.

Approximately 1.6 million immigrants from Asia entered the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 to fill critical jobs and reunite with family members, with some waiting as long as 23 years to come to this country.

“Immigration remains a critical issue to Asian Americans,” said Marita Etcubañez, director of programs at AAJC. “Congress and the president need to address every aspect of a broken immigration system through comprehensive reforms.”

The report also found significant social and economic diversity among Asian American ethnic groups, with some enjoying prosperity and others experiencing hardship.

On the one hand, Asian Americans have made considerable contributions to the U.S. economy over the past decade, with Asian American businesses employing more than 3 million individuals and issuing more than $80 billion in payroll.

On the other, recent data shows that Asian American ethnic groups like Hmong, Bangladeshi and Cambodian Americans are among the country’s poorest, with economic profiles similar to African Americans and Latinos. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in four Hmong Americans lives below the poverty line.

“Disaggregated data on specific ethnic groups like Hmong, Bangladeshi and Cambodian Americans is critical to understanding Asian Americans,” said Dan Ichinose, director of the APALC’s Demographic Research Project. “Looking only at Asian Americans as a whole masks the very real needs of many in our community.”

“A Community of Contrasts” is among a series of demographic reports undertaken by Advancing Justice, with AAJC and APALC as co-authors and APALC as principal researcher.

To read the report, visit http://www.advancingjustice.org/pdf/Community_of_Contrast.pdf.

The report launch also kicked off the 2011 Advancing Justice conference, “Strengthening the Legacy of Asian American and Pacific Islander Activism,” held on Oct. 27-28 at San Francisco’s Hotel Kabuki. A public panel, moderated by MSNBC anchor Richard Lui, on the report’s findings was held Oct. 27.

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