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In this 2006 file photo, U.S. and Indian flags flutter near the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. Researchers attribute some of that growth due to large numbers of foreign students and high-skilled workers coming from India and China.

Gurinder Osan

New Report Highlights Rapid Growth Of Asian Americans And Wide Gaps Within The Group

The Asian population in the United States has nearly doubled since 2000, and Asians are projected to be the nation’s largest immigrant group by the middle of the century, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The nation’s Asian population went from 11.9 million in 2000 to 22.4 million in 2019. Asians currently make up about 7% of the U.S. population.

The number of Asians will surpass 46 million by 2060, at which point they likely will be the largest immigrant group in the country, according to the report, which was released Thursday.

Chinese Americans are the largest Asian origin group in the U.S., accounting for about 24% of the Asian population, or 5.4 million people, according to the report. They are followed by Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese.

Indian Americans were the largest Asian origin group in 22 states, including Illinois. They accounted for 31% of the state’s Asian population, followed by Filipinos and Chinese with each comprising about 19%.

Neil Ruiz, one of the authors of the Pew report, said there has been a slowdown of immigrants coming from the U.S.-Mexico border over the last several years, and in their place, a large number of foreign students and high-skilled workers are coming from India and China.

He added that it’s important to remember that the Asian American community is diverse. The group shows some of the widest gaps in socioeconomic status and educational attainment, with some ethnicities faring much better than others.

“As a whole, Asian Americans look like they’re doing well,” Ruiz said. “But then when you disaggregate, you can see it’s very different.”

For example, Asians have a median household income over $80,000 a year, more than $20,000 higher than the overall U.S. median household income. However, Ruiz said, “when you really dig deeper, you see wide disparities between those at the very top — those of Indian origin with a median household income of $119,000 — and those at the bottom, Burmese Americans, with a $44,000 median household income.”

Ruiz says income and education disparities among Asians reflect immigration patterns: some come to the U.S. as foreign students or high-skilled workers “selected by the [country’s] immigration system for that purpose, because of their skills.” Others, he said, come as refugees from countries like Laos and Cambodia.

“It’s very important to make sure you have disaggregated data about Asian Americans, so you can really understand that there is this wide disparity,” Ruiz said.

Shobhana Verma, executive director of the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI), says she is not surprised by the growth of the Asian population in the state, adding that since 2000, the South Asian population in Illinois has grown by 73%.

Verma said she has also witnessed “a wide range of increasing needs and challenges facing the community,” particularly in Chicago, where she said about 50,000 South Asians live.

“We do have a high rate of poverty, lack of education, language access barriers, healthcare issues,” Verma said.

She also said there has been growing concern over hate crimes against Asian Americans, as well as a lack of civic engagement and distrust of the government. She added that SAAPRI is currently working to engage the South Asian community around the issue of redistricting and voter turnout.

Ruiz, with Pew, says as Asian Americans grow in number and influence, it remains to be seen whether anti-Asian incidents will continue to climb in the coming years.

“We do know right now, at least in 2021, that there’s a large majority of Asian Americans who believe there’s already been an increase in violence [against] them,” Ruiz said, referencing another Pew study he co-authored that was released last week.

That report showed that the vast majority of Asian adults, about 81%, said violence against them is increasing — compared to 56% of all U.S. adults who say the same. Additionally, 45% of Asian Americans surveyed said they have experienced at least one offensive incident since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say this number is even higher in surveys conducted in languages other than English.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.

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