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37 Million Asian Americans by 2040

UCLA Study Shows More AAPI Voters is What Really Counts

By Jennie L. Ilustre

In 2040, one out of 10 Americans would be of Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage. That translates to a projected 37 million, or 10 percent of the nation’s total population over the next 25 years.



Paul Ong
Paul Ong

But Paul M. Ong, senior editor of UCLA Asian American Studies Center’s Nexus Journal: AAPIs 2040, stressed that population increase alone would not translate to individuals achieving the American Dream, or attaining equity for AAPIs as a minority group.

“The tipping point is the increase in the voting population. If you don’t believe that, wait till November,” said Ong, who is a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Ong spoke at a recent forum to discuss the study’s significance and policy implications.

On November 8, Americans will vote for the nation’s next president. Voters will also elect or re-elect senators and all 435 House members of the U.S. Congress. In this year’s presidential election, Asian American voters live in battleground states such as Virginia and also Nevada, helping decide the winner. That’s Voter Power, which draws the attention of the nation’s elected officials who make policies and laws affecting immigration, education, health, the economy and other issues.

“We need to get out the vote this November,” AAPIs 2040 guest editor Floyd Mori said at the forum. Mori is also the President and CEO of the Asian and Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), one of the Nexus Journal’s AAPIs 2040 sponsors.

APIAVote Founding Executive Director Christine Chen, forum panelist, said, “The number of Asian American voters will double by 2040 and the number of Pacific Islander voters will also grow, which will enable AAPIs to be a sought-after and decisive vote as well as a margin of victory in an ever-increasing number of elections.” She said to prepare for 2040, the AAPI community should focus on organizing and strategies “to really take the opportunity to have immigrants naturalized so that we can turn them into voters.”

In its website, the Center for American Progress noted, “Asian Americans are the fastest-growing electorate in the United States…While they comprised only 3 percent of U.S. voters in 2012, that number increased 128 percent from 1996 to 2008.” The media reported there were 9 million Asian American voters in the 2012 presidential elections. Seven in ten (73%) voted for President Barack Obama. A post-election analysis showed their vote was not along party lines–half of them do not identify with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

APAICS top leader Mori also emphasized the need to cultivate AAPIs who would be elected or appointed to public office at all levels. This would include increasing the current AAPI members of the U.S. Congress (one senator and 11 representatives). Mori also sounded the need to develop more executives in Corporate America.

“With AAPIs representing 1 in 10 Americans by 2040, there is an opportunity for significant AAPI presence and leadership from the C-Suite in the private sector, to all levels of government, from local, state, federal, and even the White House,” Mori pointed out. “We need to cultivate a leadership pipeline and resources that will shore up capacity and infrastructure to attain, sustain, and advance what our communities define as the AAPI dream.”

APAICS is a national non-partisan, nonprofit organization whose programs focus on “developing leaders, educating the public on policy, and developing a pipeline for Asian Pacific Americans to become elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.”


Data & Funding Linked

Nexus Journal: AAPIs 2040 shows how far the minority group has gone, in terms of population and contributions to the nation in public service, education, health and as consumers with billion-dollar Buying Power, among other fields.

It presents demographic changes affecting AAPI’s future within the nation’s social, economic and political context. By 2040, Americans of Asian roots will be the fastest-growing population. Asian Americans will increase by 74%, and Pacific Islanders will also post a high 52% growth rate. In contrast, the nation’s over-all growth rate would be a mere 18% over the same period.

Today at 20 million, AAPIs make up 6 percent of the nation’s 323 million Americans. The federal government defines Asian as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.”


According to Nexus Journal: AAPIs 2040, within the next quarter century:

1 out of 10 Americans will be AAPI

1 out of 6 Asian Americans will be multi-racial

3 out of 10 Asian Americans in Kindergarten-12th grade will be multiracial, and

9 out of 10 multi-racial Asian Americans will be U.S.-born.


AAPIs 2040 stressed the importance of Data Disaggregation.  Government data tend to lump the AAPI population together. But the AAPI is a diverse population, with sub-populations such as the Hmongs, who continue to be underrepresented and underserved in education, health and other benefits. Panelist and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) Director of Education Policy Rita Pin Ahrens, pointed out the need for the U.S. Congress and states to pass Data Disaggregation legislation.

“Federal Funding is tied to the data. If we can’t show the groups’ disaggregation of that data, we cannot have federal funding…Washington State signed into law on March 21st the Data Disaggregation legislation,” Ms. Ahrens pointed out, adding Minnesota and Rhode Island are the other states with this law. “Our biggest problem is California–the governor vetoed the bill.”


Immigration Reform

Immigration, which will affect future demographics, is also among the AAPI top concerns. Advocates lamented that the U.S. Congress has failed to pass the comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Asked which ethnic community would be dominant by 2040, AAPI 2040 senior editor and Prof. Paul Ong replied: “This is a very difficult thing to predict…But my calculation is that the two largest groups would be the South Asians and the Chinese broadly defined. The pattern or flow is pretty stable, based on birth rates and migration.”

APIAVote leader Chen remarked, “It can change if immigration policy changes to one based on highly-skilled professionals.” Professor Ong agreed, noting: “Yes, it will also depend on immigration regulations. Current immigration policy is based on family reunification. But there can be a shift in fundamental ways on who will be qualified to enter the U.S. if the policy changes to economic immigration, based on skills and education.”

Immigration has had a dramatic effect on the absolute and relative size of the AAPI population. By the end of the 20th century, immigrants made up a large majority of AAPIs. But by 2040, only half will be immigrants, and half will be U.S.-born. There will also be notable differences by generation and age.

By 2040, Asian American elderly will increase 178% and Pacific Islander elderly will increase 205%, while the number of the nation’s elderly overall will increase 72%. “These trends could affect how AAPIs consume products and services, live, work, invest, spend, vote, and play,” according to AAPIs 2040.


‘No AAPI Forgotten’

Some 30 people, composed of advocates and the media, attended the forum, which took place recently at the U.S. Congress Cannon Building. During the same forum, all the panelists pointed out that much work needs to be done between now and 2040. Remarked Charles Lee, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice (advocates call him the father of Environmental Justice): “To prepare for 2040 isn’t about what happens then, but what happens now.”

Among other recommendations, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO Executive Director Gregory Cendana offered the following: 1) Increase adult education and job training; 2) address exploitation of low wage earners; and 3) mentor more AAPI leaders and labor union leaders.

Panelists stressed the need for advocates and concerted, on-going lobbying efforts on legislation in the U.S. Congress, as well as at the state level and down the line, that would meet the needs of all Americans of Asian heritage–on education, labor, aging issues, among other things.

The goal is “No AAPI forgotten, or left behind,” guest editors Elena Ong and Mori wrote in the AAPIs 2040 Message. Elena Ong noted, “There is evidence of AAPI poverty and income inequality, so it is important to ensure that our nation’s policy makers address the widening divide. Success is not just about attainment and buying power, success is also about equity and justice.”

To ensure that AAPIs of every race and ethnicity are included in the projections, AAPIs 2040 senior editor Paul Ong used demographic projection techniques that enhanced the 2014 National Population Projections by the U.S. Census Bureau, instead of using a simple linear extrapolation for all AAPIs, clustering Asian Americans with others, or reporting for just “Asians Alone.”

Nexus Journal: AAPIs 2040 aims to inform policy makers at the local, city, state and federal levels on AAPIs as an ethnic group and as voters. It also serves as a road map for advocates, community leaders and other stakeholders. Vol. 1 was made possible through the generous support of UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, APAICS, Eli Lilly and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. (To order AAPIs 2040: Volume 1 of the AAPI Nexus Journal, visit www.aapinexus.org)

Volume 1 is composed of essays on the issues of today and tomorrow: Health, aging, environmental justice, economic justice, K-12 education, higher education, labor, immigration, and political empowerment. Volume 2, to be released later this year, will focus on Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, women, LGBTQI, civil rights, media, business, philanthropy and cultural preservation.