Experts: Asian population overcount masks community nuances | health

By TERRY TANG and MIKE SCHNEIDER – Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Jennifer Chau was stunned last month when the US Census Bureau’s testimony on how accurately it counted the US population in 2020 showed that Asians were overcounted at the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group.

The director of an Asian-American advocacy group thought thousands of people were missing — outreach had been scratched by the coronavirus pandemic, and she and her staff feared widespread language barriers and a reluctance to share information with government attendees could hinder. They also thought the recent attacks on Asian Americans could fuel fears among Asian populations, the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the US

“I’m honestly shocked,” said Chau, director of the Arizona Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander For Equity Coalition.

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But Chau and other advocates and academics also believe that the 2.6% overcount of the Asian population in the once-a-decade US headcount may not be all that it seems on the surface. They say this likely masks large differences in who was counted among the various Asian communities in the US. They also believe it could be a signal that biracial and multiracial residents were being identified as Asian in greater numbers than in the past.

The details are difficult to determine since all Asian communities are grouped under the same racial category in the census. This hides the wide variety of income, education and health backgrounds among subgroups and tends to blur the unique characteristics of particular communities, some advocates said. It could also perpetuate the “model minority” myth that Asians are wealthy and well-educated.

“Asian Americans have the greatest income inequality of any other racial group in the United States, and the overall overcount likely obscures the experiences of Asian ethnic groups, who were more prone to undercount,” said Aggie Yellow Horse, assistant professor of Asia Pacific American Studies at Arizona State University.

Nearly four dozen members of the US House of Representatives this month asked the Census Bureau to break down the accuracy of Asia’s population census by subgroup. Asians in the US have roots in more than 20 countries, with China and India having the largest representation. But the office has no plans to do so, at least not in the immediate future.

“To really see how the Asian American community has fared, you need lower-level geography to understand if there was undercounting or if certain communities did better than others,” said Terry Ao Minnis, senior director for census and election programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Asians were overcounted at a higher rate than any other group. White residents were overcounted by 0.6%, and white non-Hispanic residents were overcounted by 1.6%. The Black population was undercounted by 3.3%, those who identified as another race had a 4.3% undercount, nearly 5% of the Hispanic population was missing, and more than 5.6% of reservation Americans Indians were undercounted.

Civil rights activists blamed the undercount on hurdles created by the pandemic and political interference from then-President Donald Trump’s administration, which tried unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census form and shorten field operations.

The census is used not only to determine how many congressional seats each state gets and to redefine political districts; It helps determine how $1.5 trillion a year of federal funding is allocated. Overcounts, uncovered by a survey that the bureau conducts outside the census, occur when people are counted twice, such as B. College students counted on campus and with their parents.

In the 2020 census, 19.9 million residents were identified as “Asian alone,” a 35% increase from 2010. An additional 4.1 million residents were identified as Asian in combination with another racial group, a 55% increase from 2010. Asians now make up more than 7% of the US population.

Some of the growth in Asians in the 2020 census may be due to the way some people, particularly bi- or multiracial people, report their identities on the census form, said Paul Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning and an Asian American student of UCLA.

“People change their identities from one survey to the next, and this is much more common among people who are biracial or multiracial,” Ong said.

Lan Hoang, a Vietnamese-American who works in the same coalition as Chau, listed her three young children as Asian, as well as White and Hispanic, to represent her husband’s background. She used the census as an opportunity to talk to them about the importance of identity and even read them a children’s book about the employee census.

“It’s about how important it is that you let others know that you’re here, that’s who you represent,” Hoang said. “When I filled out (the form), they were totally surprised. … ‘Yes, you are three different things in one. You are special.'”

Talks about declaring Asian background are particularly meaningful given the pandemic hatred towards Asians, Hoang added. Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were fatally shot in massage shops in Georgia last year, and there have been thousands more attacks on Asians in the US since 2020.

Such factors may have caused some multiracial people who would normally have indicated on the census form that they are white, black or some other race to select Asians instead, Ong said.

“When that happens, multiracial people go in two directions: they reject their minority identity or they embrace it,” Ong said. “With the rise of anti-Asian hostility, this has forced some multiracial Asians to choose a single identity.”

Another factor that may have contributed to the Asian outnumber is the fact that Asian young adults were more likely to have been in college than other racial or ethnic groups: 58% compared to 42% or less for young adults of other racial or ethnic origin Ethnic origin. That may have resulted in them being counted twice, on campus and with their parents, where they went after colleges and universities closed due to the pandemic.

UCLA junior Lauren Chen spent most of her freshman year in 2020 at home in Mesa, Arizona. Her father included Chen on the household census form, even though Census Bureau rules said she should have been counted at school. Chen has no idea if she was counted twice.

“UCLA was pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out how to get people’s belongings. … It was a very chaotic moment and I don’t think I knew anyone who got mail or anything like that,” Chen said. “[The census]is definitely something that I’ve paid attention to, especially with the way my dad has focused on it.”

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at

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