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Originally published June 18, 2012 at 9:59 PM | Page modified June 19, 2012 at 7:50 AM

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Asian Americans are fastest-growing racial group in U.S.

A study released by the Pew Research Center shows Asian Americans surpassing Latinos as the largest group of new immigrants arriving each year in the U.S., a finding that has weighty political implications. The survey also reports that Asian Americans are the best-educated, have the highest incomes and are generally happier than other groups.

San Francisco Chronicle

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SAN FRANCISCO — As the presidential candidates battle over U.S.-Mexico immigration policy, a sweeping new survey shows that Asian Americans have overtaken Latinos nationally as the largest group of new immigrants arriving each year in the United States — a development with profound political and economic implications.

Not only are Asian Americans the fastest-growing racial group in the country, but they have the highest incomes, are the best-educated and are happier with their lot in life compared with other groups, according to "The Rise of Asian Americans," a comprehensive Pew Research Center survey and report being released Tuesday.

"It is a reversal of fortune for Asian Americans," said David Lee, a longtime community organizer in San Francisco's Asian-American neighborhoods who teaches political science at San Francisco State University. "One hundred years ago, they were the poorest of the poor. Today, they are the best-paid, best-educated, most-in-demand workers in the country."

And in recent months, even though Asian Americans are slightly less than 6 percent of the U.S. population, they have become much-coveted voters. Both President Obama's re-election campaign and the Republican Party have launched efforts to reach Asian-American voters and encourage members of the community to run for elective office.

Politically, Asian Americans are more satisfied than most Americans with the nation's direction, generally approve of Obama's performance, lean Democratic and prefer bigger government than other Americans, the poll finds.

Socially, they place a higher value on marriage and parenthood. And while many don't like the "Tiger Mom" image of pushy, demanding Asian-American parents, 62 percent believe American parents are too soft on their children.

The Pew study is based on census data and surveys of 3,511 Asian Americans, including representative samples of the six largest Asian-American country-of-origin groups — Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese — that constitute more than 80 percent of all Asian Americans.

Oh, and about that term "Asian American" — it is largely the province of stories and reports about "Asian Americans." Only 19 percent of those surveyed said they most often describe themselves as "Asian American" or "Asian." Most (62 percent) describe themselves by their country of origin, such as "Chinese American" or "Vietnamese American."

Census data released several months ago showed Asian-American growth had outpaced Latinos. But Tuesday's Pew survey and report marries that information with one of the larger attitudinal studies of Asian Americans. In 2010, about 430,000 Asians — roughly 36 percent of all new immigrants — came to the United States, compared to about 370,000, or 31 percent, who were Latino.

Part of the shifting immigration picture comes from changes happening along the southern U.S. border.

A May study from the Pew Hispanic Center showed that "the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed" because of tighter border security, an increase in deportations and changing economic conditions on both sides of the border.

Combined with Tuesday's report, that shows "a kind of sea change in the immigration patterns," said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center.

Immigrants from Asian countries often come from different circumstances, analysts said. Many arrive in the United States with the help of work visas, so they are better educated and thus often have better-paying jobs, analysts said. Pew found that 61 percent of adults between 25 and 64 years old who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor's degree. That's twice as high as non-Asian immigrants.

Financially, the median income for Asian-American households was $66,000 in 2010, compared with $49,800 for the U.S. population, the report found. More than half (52 percent) of Asian Americans say they are in "excellent" or "good" financial shape — higher than the general population or Latinos.

However, despite some of the survey's top-line findings, not all Asians are prosperous and well-educated.

"Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians — are not generally doing as well," said Aarti Kohli, an immigration policy and law expert who was recently with the Earl Warren Institute at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. "We should be paying attention to the major gaps between people."

Socially, Asian Americans place more importance on marriage and being a good parent than the rest of the general U.S. population.

Pew found that 67 percent of the Asian Americans they surveyed said being a good parent was "one of the most important things in their lives." A 2010 Pew survey found only 50 percent of the general population ranked parenting that high.

Pew detected a similar gap on attitudes toward marriage: 54 percent of Asian Americans felt maintaining a successful marriage was one of the most important things in life, while only 34 percent of the general public feels the same.

Politically, 50 percent identify with or lean Democrat, while 28 percent identify with or lean toward Republicans. Vietnamese Americans were the only sub-demographic to tilt slightly Republican, the survey found.

Most Asian Americans say they would prefer a bigger government that provides more services to a smaller government that provides fewer services (55 percent vs. 36 percent). Opinion among the general public runs the other way: 39 percent prefer a bigger government, while 52 percent want it to be smaller.

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