How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Report: As Asian-American population grows in Orange County, so do needs

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Orange County has the highest proportion of Asian Americans in southern California, with the population at its largest ever: roughly 600,000. But a new report shows that as that population has risen over the last decade, so have the Asian-Americans in need.

The number of unemployed Asian-Americans countywide jumped 123 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to Census numbers. Meanwhile, the number of Asian-Americans living in poverty increased 51 percent.
“Some see our communities as model minorities, yet these data show that the county’s Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been hurt by the economic crisis and have real needs,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, in a statement. The group partnered on the report with Asian-Americans Advancing Justice.

The report points out that there is wide socioeconomic variation within the county's Asian ethnic groups. For example, Indian Americans' per capita income is among the county's highest, while income for Vietnamese-Americans is among the lowest. Vietnamese-Americans, along with Cambodian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, have some of the county's lowest high school graduation rates.

 A glance at Orange County population growth between 2000-2010

  • 600,000 Asian Americans, up 41 percent
  • over 19,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, up 17 percent
  • 1 out of 5 O.C. residents is Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

The report's lead researcher Kristin Sakaguchi said that the report shows that Asian-Americans are  not reaching their full potential in the political process. 

Even though Asian-Americans account for 1 in 5 residents in Orange County, only 14 percent are  registered voters, and those who turn out for elections is even lower. Part of the reason is the language barrier. Sixty-two percent of Asians in Orange County are foreign-born.

But many have lived in the US long enough that they can become naturalized and would be able to vote.

"There’s over 38,000 Asian-American immigrants who have obtained legal permanent resident status but have not yet become citizens," Sakaguchi.

Sakaguchi says that adding Asian-Americans to the electoral rolls could make a difference in tight races. What might draw more people to register is the growing number of Asian-Americans running for office.

"In the 2012 general election, at least 29 Asian-Americans ran for political office representing Orange County and 10 of those were Vietnamese-Americans," Sakaguchi said.

Vietnamese-Americans are by far the largest Asian ethnic group in Orange County, making up about a third of its Asian population.

The Vietnamese-American population took off in the 1970s and 1980s with the arrival of refugees from the Vietnam War. But Asian-Americans had started to settle in Orange County by the late 1800s, when Chinese rail workers and farmers moved into the area.

Over the most last decade, every city in the county saw an increase in Asian-Americans, with But the Korean and Filipino populations growing even faster than the Vietnamese between 2000 and 2010.

Irvine —  the county's third-most populous city — is called home by the largest number of Asian-Americans.

This story has been updated.

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