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Asian population in U.S. is soaring

WASHINGTON — From across the Asian continent, they arrive in America seeking a good job, a college education, or simply just a better place to raise a family.

The country's Asian population is soaring, new census figures from at least nine states show. Demographers and civil-rights groups attributed the trend in large part to an influx of new immigrants seeking to fulfill "the American dream."

As a result, "there are issues relating to the need of immigrants, like educational and language-access issues . . . that will occur in communities that aren't use to dealing with them," said Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.

The figures show Asians still primarily clustered in and around big cities. Data for New Jersey, a traditional destination for Asian immigrants, showed as much as a 94 percent gain over the decade

Direct comparisons of figures for 1990 and 2000 were impossible, however, because people previously could choose from only five racial categories compared to 63 in the latest census.

In New Jersey, for instance, 480,276 people classified themselves as Asian only, but another 44,080 people identified themselves as Asian and some other race.

New findings from state figures released Friday also showed:

The Asian population in Pennsylvania could have grown by as much as 83 percent, from 135,784 in 1990 to 248,601 in 2000.

Indiana's Asian population may have nearly doubled, to 72,839 during the past decade.

Two states with relatively few Asians still saw growth rates soar: Arkansas, up as much as 110 percent to 25,401; and South Dakota, up as much as 105 percent to 6,009.

Louisiana had the lowest Asian population growth rate among the five states released Friday, but was still up as much as 60 percent, to 64,350.

"We are going to see some geographic diversification of the Asian population, outside of their traditional core like California, New York and Washington state," said demographer Jeffrey Passell of the Urban Institute.

The figures come from the first wave of detailed 2000 census data released to the states, which will be used to remap congressional, state, and local political district lines. The numbers are also used to parcel out over $185 billion in federal dollars among the states.

Texas and Vermont also were scheduled to have data sent to their respective governors and legislative leaders this week. All figures are offically released to the public only after the state officials notify the Census Bureau.

The information those state leaders will see includes the federal government's revised classifications of race, which analysts said made tracking the Asian population even more difficult because of these factors:

—The number of single-race categories expanded from five to six, with an "Asian and Pacific Islander" classification in 1990 split into "Asian" and "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" for 2000. State-level figures for both tallies now reflect that change.

—The 2000 census was also the first in which Americans were allowed to identify themselves on the form as a member of more than one race. So, including the six single-race categories, there are now 63 different combinations of race that one can identify with.

Because of the rise in Asian population and race-reporting changes, the extent of the social and political implications are still unclear. Narasaki said she expected the new multirace option to be especially popular among Asians.

Various estimates placed the percentage of all Americans who would check off more than one race at 1 to 2 percent. But in Virginia, for example, 14 percent, or 43,534 of the 304,559 who checked off Asian, also marked at least one other race. And 27 percent of the 6,009 South Dakotans who identified themselves as Asian also marked at least one more race.

"It's a trend we expected to see," said Narasaki, who noted that many mixed-race Asians likely also checked the new "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" box.

Eunyoun Kim doesn't ask what a person's race is when someone walks through the doors of the Greater Philadelphia Asian Social Services Center. But she does know that the number of people the center assists has steadily increased since opening eight years ago.

So, it is not surprising to see that the number of people who classified themselves in Philadelphia as "Asian only" stood at 67,654, Kim said. The "Asian and Pacific Islander" population for Philadelphia from the 1990 census was 43,522.

"There are so many people looking for jobs. Even if we try to help, they don't get them," said Kim, who operates the center with her husband.. "I wish we could get some more funds to help."

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