PORTLAND – Oregon’s Asian population has surpassed Hispanics as the state’s fastest growing demographic, new census figures show.
Since the 2010 Census, the Asian population increased 26 percent, according to 2016 population and housing estimates. Asians now make up 6 percent of the state’s population, up from 5 percent in 2010.
The Asian population notably increased throughout the Willamette Valley, from Corvallis and Eugene to Yamhill and Marion counties as well as in the Portland metro area.
Oregon’s Latino population also grew significantly since 2010, but at a slower pace than in the early 2000s and more slowly than Asians in recent years, census figures show.
Growth for both groups follows a long-standing trend: Oregon’s population is growing quickly and diversifying even faster. The population has increased by about 255,000 residents since 2010. While whites make up approximately 88 percent of the state’s population, they only accounted for 67 percent of the population increase.
Those who identified as Asian accounted for 19 percent of the state’s growth, while those who identified as Hispanic accounted for about 28 percent.
“None of it surprises me,” said Charles Rynerson of Portland State University’s Population Research Center.
Rynerson noted that Oregon’s growth rate was in line with national trends. In the past six years, the United States’ Asian population has grown 20 percent.
He added that Oregon’s growth rate among Asians is slightly higher because the state’s overall population is increasing faster than other regions’. And as Oregon’s economy continues to grow, Asians, who on average are more well educated than other demographic groups, continue to help fill those openings.
“People are coming here for jobs, and we’re adding jobs that require a college education,” Rynerson said.
Statewide, sectors like healthcare, engineering, science, and finance saw large increases in the number of Asian employees between 2010 and 2015, Census data from the American Community Survey shows.
But service occupations like custodial and food service work had the second-largest increase in the number of Asian employees, just behind business and outpacing engineering and healthcare.
“For every (Asian person) who comes here for a high-wage job, two are coming for a low-wage one,” said Joseph Santos-Lyons, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.
H1B visas are given to highly skilled immigrants whose employers show they must hire from abroad to fill job requirements, and many are known to go to immigrants from China, India and other countries with highly educated residents. But Santos-Lyons said such immigrants are the exception, not the rule, among Asians relocating to Oregon.
“Most are outside the H1B visas going to high-paying jobs, taking jobs in the fields and service worker positions once they move here,” he said.
The Portland metro area—consisting of Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas counties—saw the biggest increase, both in percent change and absolute increase in the number of Asian residents. Washington County saw its Asian population grow by 29 percent, or more than 16,000 residents, in the past 6 years.
But the growth was not limited to Portland. Since 2010, Lane, Marion, Benton, Deschutes and Jackson counties have seen their Asian populations increase by at least 1,000, with growth rates in the mid-20 percent range.
Jackson County borders California, which Rynerson said is one of the largest sources of domestic migration to Oregon. About 17 percent of California’s population identifies as Asian.
Lane, Marion, Benton and Deschutes counties are home to universities, which Rynerson described as likely and sizeable employers of those with college degrees. Those who move for jobs typically bring their families, further driving population growth.
Family reunification is another driver of population growth, Santos-Lyons said. Family elders are likely to move from other states or abroad to join Asians already living in Oregon.
“The consistent story we hear is that folks are coming here because they have a family member here,” Santos-Lyons said. “Oregon is seen as a great place to raise a family, and Asian families tend to live intergenerationally.”
Between 2000 and 2010, Oregon’s Hispanic population was the fastest growing—63.5 percent over 10 years, compared to 46 percent for the Asian demographic. Santos-Lyons said the reversal might be surprising to some.
“One reason Asians have been overlooked are the myths and stereotypes,” he said. “We’re relatively invisible to the public, in elected and civic life and the model minority myth creates a sort of minimizing effect on our public voice.”
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