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America's Asian Century
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 07:38

Pundits and policy wonks the world over are predicting that the 21st century will be the "Asian Century".

But there is another alternative or parallel scenario by which migration of highly skilled Asians to the economically punch-drunk America rejuvenates that economy, and launches it off on a new Asian-driven America century.

What is the Asian Century hypothesis?  For half a century now, Asia has been the fastest growing region in the world economy.  And Asia has enormous scope for continued rapid economic development -- the region's share of global GDP is only about 30 per cent, whereas the region accounts for almost 60 per cent of the world's population.  And as most advanced OECD countries in the economic doldrums, with the notable exceptions of Canada and Australia, dynamically emerging Asia is expected to be increasingly the locomotive for the global economy.

However, another Asian Century is also on the cards, an American Asian Century, as suggested by the insightful analysis of a recent PewResearchCenter publication, "The Rise of Asian Americans".  After all, the growth and dynamism of the United States has always been driven by successive waves of immigration.  And today, Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States, which has an economy that increasingly relies on highly skilled workers.

The rise of Asian Americans is an historically recent phenomenon.  In 1965, the Asian-American share of the U.S. population stood at less than 1 percent, having been held down by a century’s worth of exclusionary policies explicitly based on race.  But in that year, the U.S. government opened the gates to immigration from all parts of the world, with the result that Asian Americans now represent 18.2 million or 5.8 per cent of the U.S. population.  By comparison, non-Hispanic whites are 197.5 million or 63.3 per cent, Hispanics 52.0 million or 16.7 per cent and non-Hispanic blacks 38.3 million or 12.3 per cent.

In recent years, Asians have been the largest group of new immigrants to the United States, with 36 per cent of total, surpassing Hispanics who have dropped to 31 per cent.  The Asian American population grew faster than any other race group from 2000 to 2010 (by 46 per cent) and its numbers roughly quadrupled from 1980 to 2010.  In the coming decades, it is projected by Pew that the Asian American population will continue to grow more rapidly than the US population overall, and will triple in size to 41 million by 2050, accounting for close to 10 per cent of total.

Asian immigrants first came to the U.S. in significant numbers more than a century and a half ago—mainly as low-skilled male laborers who mined, farmed and built the railroads.  But large-scale recent immigration from Asia did not take off until 1965, such that nearly three-quarters of Asian-American adults were born abroad.  The six largest Asian-American groups by country of origin are Chinese Americans (4.0 million or 23 per cent of Asian Americans), Filipino Americans (3.4 million or 20 per cent), Indian Americans (3.2 million or 18 per cent), Vietnamese Americans (1.7 million or 10 per cent), Korean Americans (1.7 million or 10 per cent) and Japanese Americans (1.3 million or 8 per cent). Together these six groups comprise 83 per cent of the total Asian population in the US.

Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals from Asia are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance.  In 2010, Asian students accounted for 25 per cent of the 48,069 research doctorates granted at US universities, notably in fields like engineering, math and computer sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences.  14 per cent of Asian Americans hold jobs in the science and engineering fields (28 per cent for Indians) compared with 5 per cent of the US population overall.

The educational credentials of these recent arrivals are striking. More than six-in-ten adults who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is double the share among recent non-Asian arrivals, and almost surely makes the recent Asian arrivals the most highly educated cohort of immigrants in U.S. history.

Recent Asian immigrants are also an elite group from their own home country.  While 27 per cent of South Korea adults and 25 per cent of Japanese adults have a bachelor’s degree or more, nearly 70 per cent of recent adult immigrants from these two countries have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Indian Americans lead all other groups by a significant margin in their levels of income and education. Seven-in-ten Indian-American adults have a college degree, compared with about half of Americans of Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Japanese ancestry, and about a quarter of Vietnamese Americans. Regarding median household annual income, the Indian American group has $88,000 compared $49,800 for America overall and $66,000 for American Asians.  Annual incomes for the other groups are: Filipino -- $75,000, Japanese -- $65,390, Chinese -- $65,050, Vietnamese -- $53,400, and Korea -- $50,000.

Asian Americans have a pervasive belief in the rewards of hard work -- 69 per cent say people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, a view shared by a somewhat smaller share of the American public as a whole (58 per cent).  50 per cent of employed Asian Americans are in management, professional and related occupations, a higher share than the roughly 40 per cent for employed Americans overall.

While Asian Americans trace their roots to many different countries, they are distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all US adults.  49 per cent of Asians have a college degree, compared with 28 per cent for the overall US population (Whites 31 per cent, Blacks 18 per cent and Hispanics 13 per cent).  The median annual household income of Asians is $66,000 versus $49,800 for the overall US population (Whites $54,000, Hispanics $40,000 and Blacks $33,300).

It is somewhat ironical that the immigration wave from Asia has occurred at a time when the largest sending countries have experienced dramatic economic development.  But few Asian immigrants are looking over their shoulders with regret. Just 12% say that if they had to do it all over again, they would remain in their country of origin.

And by lopsided margins, Asian Americans say the US is preferable to their country of origin in such realms as providing economic opportunity, political and religious freedoms, and good conditions for raising children. Respondents rated their country of origin as being superior on just one of seven measures tested in the survey—strength of family ties.

We should not think that these immigrants are sending all their money home to support their poor families.  Though they are among the least well-off financially, Vietnamese Americans are among the most likely (58 per cent) to have sent money to home in the past year. About half of Filipinos (52 per cent) also say they sent remittances home in the past year. By contrast, Japanese (12 per cent) and Koreans (16 per cent) are much less likely to have done this.

Overall, Asian Americans are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.  And for the most part, today’s Asian Americans do not feel the sting of racial discrimination or the burden of culturally imposed “otherness” that was so much a part of the experience of their predecessors who came in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In conclusion, this dramatic rise of Asian Americans is significant in many ways.  It is continuing through the worst economic crisis that America has seen since the great depression.  It is taking place at a time when the countries of origin of the migrants are experiencing historically unprecedented economic development.  This wave of immigration is now reaching levels so high that these immigrants will become an even more important driver of the US economy.

The US economy will likely remain in the doldrums for a few more years, but as it begins to return to a normally high growth path, these Asian Americans will be able to make a major contribution to the US economy -- and perhaps result in America's Asian Century!


PewResearchCenter, Social & Demographis Trends.  The Rise of Asian Americans.


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