The Changing Geography of Asian America: To the South and the Suburbs

Joel Kotkin, New Geography, September 13, 2012

“There’s nothing wrong with New York that a million Chinese couldn’t cure,” the urban geographer George Sternlieb once quipped. It may be an exaggeration, but rising Asian immigration has indeed been a boon to many communities and economies across the country.

Over the past 30 years the number of Asians in America has quadrupled to 18 million, or roughly 6% of the total U.S. population. But their economic impact is much greater. They are far more likely to be involved in technology jobs than other ethnic groups, constituting over 20% of employees in the nation’s leading technology companies, four times their share of the overall U.S. workforce. And then there’s the line of connections to the most dynamic economies on the globe: India, South Korea, Singapore and, of course, China.

Asia has become the nation’s largest source of newcomers, accounting for some 36% of all immigrants in 2010. Asian immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants tend to be better educated: half of all Asians over 25 have a college degree, almost twice the national average. They earn higher incomes, and, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, are more likely to abide by “traditional” values, with a stronger commitment to family, parenting and marriage than other Americans, and a greater emphasis on education.

“Most Asian immigrants bring with them a healthy respect and aspiration for the American way of life, so I don’t think any immigration alarmists need to be anxious,” notes Thomas Tseng, founding principal at New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm. “With a large influx of them, you will get a lot of their kids in the school system who are told that getting an education is the surest way for them to succeed in life, a great deal of entrepreneurial energy and new businesses in a region, and most certainly the local restaurant scene will improve.”

To find out where Asians are settling, we asked demographer Wendell Cox to analyze the most recent decennial Census. As expected, the largest Asian communities are in the largest metro areas, led by New York and Los Angeles with almost 1.9 million Asians each—twice the magic number cited by Sternlieb—followed by Chicago.

But our analysis found that in search of opportunity, Asians are increasingly headed to regions that, until recently, had very few Asian immigrants. And throughout the country, Asians, following a trend that has been developing over the past two decades, appear to be settling primarily in the suburbs.

Similar to the pattern we found in a survey on the migration patterns of bachelor’s degree holders, Asians are increasingly settling not in the established hubs, but in younger, more vibrant and growing cities that are mostly in the middle or southern half of the country.


Several smaller cities also saw bigger percentage gains during the 2000s: the Asian populations of Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., Indianapolis and Phoenix all rose by 100% or more.

Growth was much slower in traditional Asian centers: 57% in the Washington metro area, and 52% in Seattle. The Asian populations of the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas expanded less than 25%. Overall, it is clear that the Asian population, although still largest in the biggest metros, has been dispersing to other parts of the country.


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