Lunar New Year in America and the Growth of the Asian-American Population

Monday, February 8, marked the first day of the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated across East Asia and in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities all over the world as the Spring Festival, Seollal, or Tết. Since the earliest days of Chinese immigration in the 1800s, the Lunar New Year has been celebrated in all communities with a sizeable East Asian population. San Francisco’s first Lunar New Year celebration was held sometime in the 1860s, while this year’s Golden Dragon Parade in Los Angeles is in its 117th year. On the East Coast, this year marks the first time in its history that the New York City public school system has recognized the Lunar New Year as an official holiday. Meanwhile, elsewhere, in less traditional immigrant hubs with newer immigrant communities, Chinese and Lunar New Years are being celebrated for the first or second time.

The proliferation of Lunar New Year celebrations in the United States is a further sign of the deepening ties between immigrants from East Asia, their descendants, and their new home in the United States. While cities on both coasts have long welcomed immigrants from East Asia, new research shows that Asian immigrants are now settling in communities in America’s heartland, in cities like Indianapolis, Austin, and Fayetteville. Indeed, while immigration from Latin America has long been the focus of debates on immigration, today more immigrants arrive from Asia than from Latin America. Asian Americans, which include people of East- and South-Asian descent—from countries like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh—are now the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and make up 6.4 percent, or more than 20.5 million, of the entire U.S. population.[1]

The growth of the Asian-American population has significant implications for the United States, both politically and economically. A PNAE study found that, due to aging and naturalization patterns, by 2020 there may be 25.6 million Asian and Hispanic eligible voters, numbers that are sure to have an effect on all future midterm and presidential elections. Economically, we see that Asian Americans and Asian immigrants in general are already contributing in outsized ways relative to their overall numbers. For example, Asian Americans have the highest rates of educational attainment among all other ethnic or racial groups, with half of all Asian Americans holding at least a bachelor’s degree. These high levels of educational attainment also have translated into high levels of income. As of 2014, the average Asian-American household income was $72,000, 35 percent more than the average U.S. household. The economic clout of Asian Americans also signals that they are disproportionate contributors to federal, state, and local tax coffers, funding social programs, local police and fire squads, and community schools and hospitals.

As Asian immigrants and their descendants continue to make new homes in the United States and integrate into American society, it is likely that holidays like the Lunar New Year will continue to become more enmeshed in public life and the public conscious of Americans of all backgrounds—further enriching the fabric and diversity of the American people.

 

 

[1] 2014 American Communities Survey, 1 Year Sample, Public Use Microdata Series. Author’s calculations.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…