Asian population overcount masks community nuances

PHOENIX (AP) — Jennifer Chau was astonished last month when the U.S. Census Bureau report card on how accurately it counted the U.S. population in 2020 showed Asians were overcounted by the highest rate of any race or ethnic group.

The director of an advocacy group for Asian Americans thought thousands would be missed – awareness-raising activities had been striped by the coronavirus pandemic, and she and her staff feared that widespread language barriers and mistrust in sharing information with the government would hamper participation. They also believed that recent attacks on Asian Americans might stir up fears inside fastest growing Asian population, race or ethnic group in the United States

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

But Chau and other advocates and scholars also believe that the 2.6% Asian population overcount in the decade-long US tally may not be all it seems on the surface. They say that likely masks a wide variation in the number of people counted among different Asian communities in the United States. They also think it could signal that biracial and multiracial residents have identified as Asian in greater numbers than in the past.

The details are difficult to determine because all Asian communities are grouped under the same racial category in the census. This masks the wide variety of income, education and health among subgroups and tends to blur the unique characteristics of certain communities, some advocates said. It may 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 masks the experiences of Asian ethnic groups who were more likely to be undercounted,” said Aggie Yellow Horse, Assistant Professor of American Asia-Pacific Studies. at Arizona State University.

Nearly four dozen members of the US House this month asked the Census Bureau to break down the accuracy of the count of Asian residents by subgroups. Asians in the United States trace their roots to more than 20 countries, with China and India being the most represented. But the bureau has no plans to do so, at least not in the immediate future.

“To really see how the Asian American community fared, you need lower-level geography to understand if there was an undercount or if some communities fared better than others. said Terry Ao Minnis, Senior Director of Census and Voting Programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice. .

Asians were overestimated by a higher rate than any other group. White residents who are not Hispanic were overcounted by 0.6%. The black population was undercounted by 3.3%, those who identified with another race were undercounted by 4.3%, nearly 5% of the Hispanic population was missed, and more than 5.6 % of Native Americans living on reservations were undercounted.

Civil rights leaders blamed the undercount on barriers created by the pandemic and political interference by 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 not only used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets and to redraw political districts; it helps determine how $1.5 trillion a year in federal funding is allocated. The overcounts, which are revealed by a survey conducted by the bureau outside of the census, occur when people are counted twice, such as students counted on campus and at their parents’ homes.

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

Part of the growth of Asians in the 2020 census may be rooted in the fluidity of how some people, especially those who are biracial or multiracial, declare their identity on the census form, said Paul Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning and Asian American. Studied at UCLA.

“People change identities from survey to survey, and it’s much more prevalent among those who are multiracial or biracial,” 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 took advantage of the census to talk to them about the importance of identity, even reading them a children’s book on counting.

“It shows how important it is for you to let others know you’re here, that’s what you stand for,” Hoang said. “When I filled in (the form), they were totally surprised. … ‘Yeah, you’re three different things in one. You are special.'”

Conversations about declaring one’s Asian origin are particularly significant given the anti-Asian hatred sparked by the pandemic, Hoang added. Eight people, including six women of Asian origin, were fatally shot down last year in massage businesses in Georgia, and thousands more attacks against Asians have performed in the United States since 2020.

Such factors may have led some multiracial people who would normally have indicated on the census form that they were white, black or of another race to choose Asians instead, Ong said.

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

Another factor that may have contributed to the overcount of Asians is the fact that Asian young adults were more likely to be in college than other racial or ethnic groups: 58% versus 42% or less for young adults in other races or ethnicities. This may have caused them to be counted twice, on campuses and at their parents’ homes, where they went after the closure of colleges and universities because of the pandemic.

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

“UCLA was pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out how to get people’s property back. … It was a very messy time and I don’t think I’ve known anyone who received mail or anything like that,” Chen said. “(The census) is definitely something I paid attention to, especially with the way my dad focused on it.”


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

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