WASHINGTON — ASIAN-Americans are challenging Hispanics for leadership as the fastest growing US minority group. During the past decade, the Asian-American population in the US surged by 80 percent, fueled by 2.9 million immigrants. Vietnam led the way among Asian nations with 679,378 immigrants here, well ahead of the Philippines, second with 473,831.
Asians are changing the character of several US cities. Nearly half of all Asian-Americans live in just six metropolitan areas: Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Honolulu, New York, and Chicago.
A report issued today by the Population Reference Bureau, Inc., says this ``phenomenal growth is likely to continue in the 1990s'' because US immigration laws give preference to family reunification.
Asian-Americans have gained notoriety in recent years as a ``model minority,'' with students who perform at the top of their classes and scholars who win academic and scientific awards.
Today the median family income of Asians ($35,900) is slightly higher than whites ($35,000). About 39 percent of Asians live in households with incomes above $50,000, compared with 32 percent for whites.
By comparison, the median income of Hispanics is $23,400, and of blacks, $20,200.
However, these numbers hide serious problems within the Asian community. While some groups, such as Japanese-Americans, have relatively high earnings, others such as Laotian-Americans often live at poverty levels. Overall, Asian-American poverty rates are twice as high as those for whites.
The study, based on recent US Census figures, points to several reasons why Asian-Americans are successful. It notes:
``Most Asian cultures place a heavy emphasis on education and hard work, and young people are expected to pursue educational opportunities.... At the university level, Asian-American educational attainment is striking. In 1990, 40 percent of Asian-Americans age 25 and over had at least four years of college, nearly double the figure for ... whites (23 percent).''
From 1980 to 1989, the Asian-American population in the US rose from 3.8 million to 6.9 million - twice the growth rate of Hispanics, six times that of blacks, and 20 times that of whites.