Mention “immigration” and most Americans see a Hispanic face, yet there are now more Asian immigrants. Such broad categories often miss important personal and cultural details. (More)

Views from the Pews, Part II: Our Changing Faces

This week Morning Feature looks at surveys from the Pew Research Center. Yesterday we saw how Americans get their news, what news they look for, and what news sources they trust. Today we consider surveys of Hispanic and Asian Americans. Saturday we’ll conclude with surveys on the issues and coverage of the election.

The growth of Asian immigration

Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States,” begins a June Pew Research report.

While the income and education fit a common stereotype of Asian Americans, many Americans are surprised to discover that, by 2009, more Asians than Hispanics were coming to the U.S. Yet Asian Americans are more likely to live in ethnically blended neighborhoods, and more likely to than other ethic groups to marry across racial lines.

The median income for Asian Americans is one-third higher than for Americans overall. Part of that economic success is due to education; almost half of all Asian Americans graduate from college and 70% of adult Asian immigrants arrive in the U.S. with at least a bachelor’s degree. Part may also be an ethic of hard work; 69% of Asians agreed with the statement “Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they work hard,” and 93% agreed that “Americans from my country of origin group are very hard-working,” as compared to only 58% of Americans overall who agreed with each.

Asian Americans also believe in the U.S., with most saying this country offers better opportunities to succeed, better conditions to raise their children, more political and religious freedom, and takes better care of the poor than their countries of origin. And most Indian and Chinese Americans say their current standard of living is better than their parents had at the same age, while only a third of Indians and Chinese in their home countries say the same.

“Where are you from?”

I often ask that question when I meet people whose names, accents, or other cues suggest recent arrival in the U.S. It’s a good ice-breaker, and I often learn interesting perspectives on both their countries of origin and on their experiences in the U.S.

Among new Asian Americans, China is the most common country of origin, followed by the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. But who you meet depends in part on where you live. Most Japanese and Filipino immigrants settle in the West, while most Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Indian immigrants settle farther east. And while 70% of Japanese Americans were born in the U.S., most adults from other Asian groups are first-generation immigrants. Yet few report the kind of discrimination faced by Hispanic and African Americans. Indeed most don’t use the term “Asian American” to describe themselves, and more often think of themselves as “typical Americans.”

In fact, an April Pew Research study found that most Hispanic Americans don’t like the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino.” About half prefer to identify themselves by their countries of origin, and only one-fourth use pan-ethnic labels. (Those who do prefer “Hispanic” to “Latino” by a 2:1 margin.) Fittingly, the Census Bureau are now considering new questions that ask about specific countries of origin rather than broad ethnic labels.

Fear and success

While most Americans approve of strict immigrations enforcement laws like that passed in Arizona, Hispanics overwhelmingly disagree, according to a June Pew Research survey. That should come as no surprise, as Hispanics will feel the disproportionate impact of such laws despite the fact that, in April, Pew Research found net immigration from Mexico has stopped and perhaps even reversed.

Hispanics also represent growing percentages of school children (23%) and university students (16%) – both new highs in 2011, Pew reported in August – and increasing education is paying off in their economic outlook according to a March Pew report. That same report found that while unemployment among Blacks and Hispanics at the end of 2011 was still higher than unemployment among whites and Asian Americans – 15% and 11.2% to 6.6% and 7.1%, respectively – Hispanics and Asian Americans were more likely to jobs during the recovery.

Much of that is the changing faces in many workplaces. Fewer Hispanics are working in fields like personal, laundry, and private household services, hospitals, and public administration, while more are working in restaurants and hotels, wholesale and retail businesses, and professional and business services. Yet because the Hispanic and Asian populations are growing faster than other groups, their greater job gains made smaller dents in their unemployment rates.

With President Obama’s DREAMers Rule likely to protect up to 1.7 million immigrants from deportation, the faces of America will continue to change over the coming years. That’s good news for those who think “We the People” means all of us, and tomorrow we’ll discuss how Americans see the issues and coverage of the presidential election.

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Happy Friday!