D. Dowd Muska


Taking Stock of America’s ‘Model Minority’

March 29, 2012

Demographics junkies have received another gift from the Census Bureau. “The Asian Population: 2010” reveals many facts about a group that is usually left out of America’s frequently facile debates over race.

“The population that identified as Asian,” the bureau reports, “either alone or in combination with one or more other races, grew by 45.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, while those who identified as Asian alone grew by 43.3 percent. Both populations grew at a faster rate than the total U.S. population, which increased by 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.”

The number of residents -- native-born, naturalized citizens, and “undocumented” -- with Asian DNA leapt from 11.9 million in 2000 to 17.3 million 2010. The West remains the region with the cohort’s densest concentration, 46 percent, while “22 percent live in the South, 20 percent in the Northeast, and 12 percent in the Midwest.” (In the first decade of the 21st century, growth was fastest in the South. Evidently, low-tax, low-cost, “red” states attract all kinds of folks.) The 10 urban areas with the largest populations of Asians are New York, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu, Chicago, Houston, Fremont (California), and Philadelphia.

Asia’s an awfully big place, so disaggregation by country/ethnicity is necessary for a more granular examination. Over 4 million U.S. residents trace their lineage to China. Filipinos are second, at 3.4 million, followed by Indians (3.2 million), Vietnamese (1.7 million), Koreans (1.7 million), and Japanese (1.3 million). The Pakistani, Cambodian, Hmong, Thai, Laotian, and Bangladeshi communities each have hundreds of thousands of members.

So far, the bureau has tabulated only the various racial categories in the U.S., and where they choose to live. We’ll have to wait a few more years for data on age, family structure, education, employment, income, and the like. For now, a December 2004 brief based on responses to the last census offers compelling evidence that in America, Asians thrive:

Marriage is linked to wealth and health and happiness, and in 2000, 60 percent “of all Asians were married, compared with 54 percent of the total population.” (Separations and divorces were less common than for the nation as a whole.)

• In 2000, 24.4 percent of the 25-and-older population had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Asians, the figure was 44.1 percent, with Indians (63.9 percent), Pakistanis (54.3 percent), and Chinese (48.1 percent) in the lead.

• “About 45 percent of Asians were employed in management, professional, and related occupations” in 2000. The full-workforce figure: 34 percent. More than half of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese employees had high-status, high-paying positions. (Entrepreneurship is rampant. Last year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that 10 of the “region’s 25 largest minority-owned companies are owned by individuals from India or of Indian ancestry.”)

• Median income for all workers in 2000 was $37,057. The comparable amount for Asians was $40,650. (Indians were paid the most, besting the overall median by $14,847.) U.S. median family income was $50,046, but for Asian households, it was $59,324. (Indian and Japanese families exceeded $70,000.)

Many Asian activists fret that the reflexive depiction of their group as a “model minority” obscures troubles, particularly for Filipinos, Laotians, Hmong, and Cambodians.

It’s true that problems (e.g., high-school dropouts, juvenile crime) plague some of the nation’s newest Asian communities. (The headline for a 2003 article in The New York Times put it succinctly: “Asian Students: Not All of Them Are Pre-Med Violinists.”) But that’s no reason to downplay the remarkable success of people who have surmounted bigotry, poverty, culture clashes, and a tough language barrier in a new land.

Michael Woo, the dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and a former City of Los Angeles councilman, credits Confucianism for much of Asians’ success. It values “honesty, integrity, hard work, modesty and individual responsibility for setting an example.” The philosophical system dovetails with the habits and virtues of the Europeans who settled America.

Welfare dependency, “family fragmentation,” failure to cultivate marketable skills -- the country’s greatest failings are scorned by most members of our smallest minority. For millions of Asian-origin people who were born in -- or immigrated to -- The Land of the Free, the good life is attainable.

Late-arrivers to the American experiment, Asians have surpassed all reasonable expectations. Frankly, they’re putting many of us to shame. If there is to be a resurrection of the behaviors and beliefs that made the U.S. a powerhouse of freedom and prosperity, Asians will play a considerable role.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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