Center for American Progress

How to Better Serve Growing U.S. Asian American Communities

How to Better Serve Growing U.S. Asian American Communities

CAP Event Looks at How Demographic Trends Are Affecting Them

A CAP event focuses on how new data on Asian groups can be used for polices that meet their needs.


The Center for American Progress’s Progress 2050 project partnered with UCLA’s Asian American Studies Department on October 28 to celebrate President Barack Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to host a symposium with the release of the Asian American Studies Center’s report, “Forging the Future: The Role of New Research, Data, and Policies for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.” "Forging the Future" analyzes the community’s underserved and under-represented groups. It is the most comprehensive report to date on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The report illustrates the need to address the everyday issues and problems of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders given changing demographic trends. According to the U.S. Census, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group, with 43 percent growth from 2000 to 2010. During the same time period, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders grew by 35 percent.

Event moderator Kiran Ahuja, executive director for the WHIAAPI, and panelists Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Assembly Member Mike Eng (D-CA) reviewed during the opening discussion the need for policy to be more reflective of our changing demographics and why we urgently need to improve opportunities for the Asian American community.

As Rep. Chu stated, “The issue of data disaggregation affects so many areas of our policymaking process.” She cited the No Child Left Behind Act as an example, saying “unless the disaggregation concerns of Asian Americans are known,” Asian American and Pacific Islanders will miss out on much-needed education funding.

In a keynote address following the opening discussion, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed one of the problems these groups face: the high rate of bullying, both in the classroom and via the web, on AAPI children.

The most recent data states: “Asians are more likely than other groups to be bullied in the classroom and are a staggering three times more likely to be cyber-bullied once or twice a month."

Bullying affects a student’s performance in the classroom and beyond. Working to eliminate disparities in and outside of the classroom will help improve Asian American students’ quality of life. The report highlights “bullying and student harassment, English learning education, community outreach and recruitment of more AAPI educators” as necessary efforts to lessen these disparities.

Next, a two-part panel discussion examined the new data in the report and how it could be used to improve policies so that they benefit Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. The panelists also considered how to better improve disparities in education, health, housing, economic development, and civil rights for these under-represented groups.

Moderated by Tarry Hum, associate professor for CUNY Queens College and Graduate Center, the first panel included Shirley Hune, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington Seattle; Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, professor in the UCLA School of Public Health and Department of Asian American Studies; and Alek Sripipatana, public health analyst with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Being portrayed as the “model minority” often creates the perception that Asian Americans are not in need of federal assistance. Professor Kagawa-Singer stated that Asian Americans are the “fastest growing U.S population over the last 35 years” and are “constantly reported in aggregated numbers” leading to misrepresentation of the needs of the community. The misguided data result in government programs missing the economic challenges the AAPI community face. The Asian American Studies Center’s report states: “AAPI ethnic subgroups are arrayed from the bottom to top end of the economic ladder, with some experiencing poverty at rates unrivaled by others.”

Further, “Forging the Future” indicates that “college-educated Asian Americans experience higher unemployment rates than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, and those employed in the enclave experience extremely low wages.” This makes inclusive, accurate data more necessary in order for us to be better equipped in lessening disparities among the AAPI community.

The second panel, moderated by Doua Thor, WHIAAPI commissioner, included Rashida Dorsey, data policy analyst with the Office of the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services; Paul Ong, professor at UCLA School of Public Affairs; and Tommy Hwang, chair of the Asian American Government Executives Network.

Hwang stressed the importance of having higher levels of AAPI representation in the civil service, stating that even though the percentage of representation is the “highest it’s ever been” now is “not a time to be complacent.” According to the report, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent 5.6 percent of the entire federal civil service with only 3 percent at the senior executive service level.

According to CAP’s report on this topic that was released by Progress 2050 last month, research shows that whites will continue to be over-represented in senior level civil-service positions with Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians being significantly under-represented, making up approximately 1.6 percent of the senior executive service positions.

Paul Ong talked about the housing crisis’s effects on the Asian American community, saying that, “Asian Americans have been swept up in the foreclosure crisis that has eroded nearly a decade of accumulated wealth.” Asian Americans, along with all communities of color, were hit hard by the housing crisis and subsequent economic downturn. "Forging the Future" states that after the housing crisis, “the wealth position of Asian Americans has deteriorated much faster than non-Hispanic whites, reopening the gap in asset holding.”

During the event’s closing remarks, Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu pointed out the Obama administration’s key contributions to the AAPI community. Lu stated that through the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders the administration has provided “assistance to southeast fisherman, increased financial support to colleges that serve the AAPI community, federal resources to non-native English speakers, better integrate recent immigrants and help to develop the next generation of AAPI leaders in the federal government.”

Progress 2050 and UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center hope that these discussions will help lead to a progressive agenda that addresses the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. As stated throughout the conference, the data presented should be used in the future to lessen disparities among communities of color and better prepare us for the diverse America that we’re projected to live in by 2050.


For more on this event, please see its event page.

Download the report: "Forging the Future: The Role of New Research, Data, and Policies for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders"

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