Sunday, December 19, 2010

Census Data Indicates Growing and Dispersing Pacific Islander American Population

Earlier this week, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published a story on Hawaii's changing demographics, as depicted by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. (Here's that story: LINK) Among other things, it reported that while Hawaii's population increased 5.7 percent from 2000 - 2009, during that same time the Native Hawaiian population in the state decreased by 6.8 percent.

First, I want to talk about why those numbers may end up being misleading. Next, I want to talk about some other results of the American Community Survey which indicate that the Pacific Islander American population grew in number during the past decade.

The Hawaii Data: Anytime you're looking at Census data on race, make sure to check whether the results say "X" race "alone" or "alone or in combination." The difference is that "alone or in combination" stats mean that multiracial Americans are included as members of more than one of the races they identify as. Overall, multiracial individuals are not a huge percentage of the American population: we're somewhere above 2 percent. But in Hawaii, over 20 percent of the population identifies as multiracial. This means that if you want to get a detailed picture of race and ethnicity in Hawaii, you need to be able to look at "alone or in combination" stats. This is especially true for Pacific Islander Americans - in the 2000 Census multiracial Pacific Islanders greatly outnumbered those who identified as Pacific Islander alone. Unfortunately, the American Community Survey numbers that were referenced in the Star-Advertiser didn't do that.

When the richer data that includes multiracial Hawaii residents is released, it may end up indicating the same thing that the "alone" stats say... but we won't know until we see it. For now, what we do know is that in Hawaii, a segment of the Native Hawaiian population (those that identify as Native Hawaiian alone), as counted in a large government-conducted survey, declined over the past decade.

National Pacific Islander Stats: Being more curious than the average twenty-something is about Census stats, this article above encouraged me to dive into the Census Bureau's website and see what else the American Community Survey (ACS) said about the Pacific Islander American population. Here were my two major findings, comparing the American Community Survey results with the Census 2000 results:
  • From 2000 - 2009, the number of American residents who identified as Pacific Islander (aka "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander") alone grew significantly, from 398,800 to 447,500. That's a 12 percent population increase over that decade. (It will be interesting to see what the change was when the multiracial Pacific Islander population is included.)
  • From 2000 - 2009, the number of Hawaii residents who identified as Pacific Islander alone fell slightly from 113,500 to 112,900.

The takeaway is that at least in the case of individuals who identify as Pacific Islander alone, their numbers are growing noticeably across the nation, while they are slowly declining in the only Pacific Island State of the Union. (Here's a link to the Census Bureau's ACS web page: LINK)

How does this tie back into the PIA project's mission to see Pacific Islanders included in scholarships and fellowships for underrepresented minorities?

Simple. In places like Hawaii, Pacific Islanders are a significant percentage of the total population, and it is widely known that they are underrepresented in higher education. Any Hawaii-based program for underrepresented minorities would allow Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders to apply, because those programs would be aware of our underrepresentation.

Nationally, this is not the case. Many communities are hardly aware that Pacific Islander Americans exist as a thriving, growing, and sometimes struggling community. Most of these well-intended scholarships and fellowships who want to help underrepresented minorities do not include or advertise to Pacific Islanders.

Now, as the Pacific Islander population disperses across these communities, and attends college in these communities, they will find that they are being excluded from scholarships and fellowships that they should at least be able to apply to. They will find that some underrepresented minority programs which would have included them in Hawaii are not doing so across the mainland. In some cases this could make the difference between a diploma and a dropout, or attending graduate school or not.

This is another reason why - as the Pacific Islander American population disperses in greater numbers across the mainland U.S. - it is important for underrepresented minority programs to include Pacific Islanders now.


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