The Top 10 Facts About Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

What You Should Know About America’s Fastest-Growing Racial Group

As we enter the month of May, which is nationally recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we take a close look at the Asian American and Pacific Islander population in the United States, one of the fastest-growing racial groups in our country. This month we should celebrate the many ways this rapidly growing community is contributing to our future prosperity.

Below we outline 10 interesting facts about the strength and diversity of this population. 

1. There were more than 17 million Americans of Asian descent in 2010. In 2010 the 17.3 million Americans of Asian descent comprised 5.6 percent of the total U.S. population. Nearly half of the Asian[1] population—46 percent—lives in the western United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Population Projections from 2008, by 2050 close to 8 percent of the U.S. population (7.79 percent) will identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander alone.

2. The Asian population is growing rapidly. The Asian population grew by more than 45 percent from 2000 to 2010—a rate faster than any other major race group—according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the South Asian American population grew at an even faster pace—78 percent over the past decade. From 2000 to 2010 the Asian population increased by 30 percent or more in every state except Hawaii, according to the 2010 Census.

3. Nevada and Arizona have seen sharp increases in their Asian populations. Asians comprise the greatest share of the population in Hawaii (57.4 percent) and California (14.9 percent), but the Asian population has grown in size most rapidly in Nevada (116 percent between 2000 and 2010) and Arizona (94.6 percent in the same years). Other key states that have experienced swift Asian population growth include Virginia (71 percent) and Ohio (49 percent).

4. Civic engagement in the Asian community is very high. Forty-eight percent of registered Asian American voters—3.4 million people—turned out to vote in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010 Asians accounted for 2.4 percent of all voters, up from 2.2 percent in 2006. Between 2000 and 2008 the total Asian American eligible voter population grew from 4,718,000 to 7,059,000—an increase of nearly 50 percent.

5. Close to three-fifths of foreign-born Asians are naturalized U.S. citizens, meaning they are eligible to vote. In 2010 two-thirds of those who identified as Asian alone were foreign born (66.5 percent). Of these foreign-born residents, 57 percent were naturalized citizens. More than 250,000 Asian American immigrants became U.S. citizens in 2010 alone.

6. Immigration policy affects Asian Americans too. An estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States come from Asia. Between 2001 and 2010 Asians made up more than a quarter of refugee arrivals to the United States (26 percent) and comprised a third of people granted asylum (33 percent). During the same period 1.6 million immigrants entered the United States from Asian countries.

7. The population is economically diverse and represents both extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum.  An astonishing 50 percent of single-race Asians 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education in 2010, compared to only 28 percent of the total adult U.S. population in that year. However, between 39 and 52 percent of the Southeast Asian population is still linguistically isolated.  These disparities are just one indication of the challenges still facing segments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population.

8. Although Asian Americans generally fare well in the U.S. economy, some ethnic groups are struggling. Hmong Americans, an Asian ethnic subgroup from the mountainous regions of China, have one of the lowest per capita incomes of any racial or ethnic group nationwide. In 2010 the unemployment rate for Cambodians was 9.2 percent, the Hmong community was at 9.9 percent, Laotians were at 9.1 percent, the Vietnamese were at 6.8 percent, and all Pacific Islanders were at 9.9 percent. Similarly, about one in five Cambodian and Bangladeshi Americans lives in poverty.

9. Asians contribute to our economy as consumers and entrepreneurs. The total purchasing power of Asians totaled $543.7 billion in 2010 and is projected to reach $775.1 billion by 2015. Asian entrepreneurs also own more than 1.5 million American businesses and employ more than 3 million workers.

10. The population holds great economic potential for the future. Between 2000 and 2009 Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander buying power came close to doubling, growing by 89 percent. In 2009 alone the buying power of the Asian population was $509 billion. This coupled with the rapid growth of the Asian American population holds great economic potential for the United States.

Rachel Wilf and Abigail Ridley-Kerr are interns with the Progress 2050 department at the Center for American Progress.


[1]. We use the term Asian when referring to racial identification, such as Census Bureau data that distinguishes between race and ethnicity and collects information on all United States residents regardless of their nationality. We use the term Asian American when referring to community groups that self-identify as such to describe their national identity.