New Report Reveals Disparities Throughout Asian America in Western U.S.

by Emil Guillermo /  / Updated 

While approximately half of the United States' Asian-American population and nearly three-quarters of the country's Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders live in the western part of the nation, a deeper dive into the numbers reveals a diverse group with mixed experiences economically and politically.

A new demographic report by Asian Americans Advancing Justice released Tuesday shows that, despite stories of Asian-American success, many are still recovering from the great recession with high rates of unemployment and poverty.

“Similar to other regions, the number of unemployed NHPI and Asian Americans increased tremendously in the West,” demographer Joanna Lee told NBC News in an email. “Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that many Asian Americans were unemployed for a year or longer. Still others left the labor force and are just now trying to re-enter the work force to find jobs.”

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The new report covers growth between 2007-2013 and studies 13 states, including California, Hawaii, and Alaska. The report also includes new data from Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and the Seattle and Las Vegas metro areas. It shows the unemployment growth rate among Asian Americans second only to African Americans in Arizona--nearly 40 percent greater than the total population.

“Making broad generalizations about our communities based on overly broad data can lead not only to being misunderstood, but also to being underserved."

In Oregon, the number of unemployed Asian Americans grew by 83 percent, higher than any group in the state.

The job numbers had an effect on income levels and the number living in poverty as well, according to the report. For example, in Arizona, the number of Asian American living in poverty grew 75 percent between 2007 and 2013, which was significantly higher than all racial groups.

The report also finds that many are also still hampered by their limited English proficiency (LEP). According to the study, one in three Asian Americans in the Seattle metro area are LEP. A majority of Vietnamese Americans in that area (52 percent) were also found to be LEP.

The bright spot in the report was the number of Asian Americans who became politically engaged. For example, the number of Asian Americans who registered to vote and cast ballots in Nevada grew 157 percent and 128 percent, respectively, between 2004 and 2012--rates higher than any other racial group, demographer Lee said.

In Oregon, the study showed Asian Americans have the ability to influence statewide elections. Lee said that during the 2012 general election, the Asian-American voting-age population exceeded the margin of victory in nine state house districts.

Lee said that only through the breaking down and disaggregation of the big data can real insight be found. “Data are often lumped under the ‘AAPI’ umbrella which masks needs in our communities,” she said.

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She cited Seattle as one example that shows that while people celebrate that 47 percent of Asian-American adults have bachelor’s degree or higher, by ethnicity, only 11 percent of Laotian, 16 percent of Cambodian, and 26 percent of Vietnamese Americans have bachelor’s degrees or higher--rates lower than other communities of color.

Lee added that large portions of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, Filipino, and Vietnamese students at the University of Washington are first-generation college students and need more programs to assist them in college.

“Making broad generalizations about our communities based on overly broad data can lead not only to being misunderstood, but also to being underserved,” Lee said. “Data are an important tool in debunking a lot of the harmful myths that render invisible the diverse experiences of our community.”

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