Census figures portray a growing, affluent and professional
Arab Americans have
lower than average unemployment, higher income and education
than their mainstream American counterparts, according to
the most recent U.S. Census figures.
Arab American community has continued to grow, both in number
and affluence through the 1990s, according to newly released
figures from the U.S. Census taken in 2000.
figures, which have just been made available regarding the
Arab American community, paint a picture of a population that
continues to integrate itself into the national mosaic of
American life. It is a vibrant community that is growing,
well educated and relatively prosperous compared to the rest
of Americans. At the same time, Arab Americans boast a higher
entrepreneurial bent while reporting a lower unemployment
rate, according to the Census.
the most recent data also found that an increasing number
of Arab Americans identify themselves as being of Arab descent
rather than by country of origin. . This appears to reflect
a trend towards pan-ethnic identities, similar to Latinos,
and is more prevalent among the U.S.-born. It also suggests
a more fertile ground for unified Arab American political,
cultural and social organizational efforts.
Every ten years,
the Census takes the demographic pulse of the U.S. population,
collecting information ranging from family size and citizenship
to education, income, and occupation. Among the questions
is one on the "ancestry" or ethnic origin of participants.
Answers to this question allow demographers and analysts to
gain a snapshot of the Arab American community, or those who
trace their roots to an Arabic-speaking country.
only a portion of the population with ancestors who come from
an Arab country are captured by the ancestry question, resulting
in a numeric undercount. Limitations of the sampling methodology
combined with non-response by some, under-response (only two
ethnic backgrounds are tabulated and reported), and reporting
ancestry as race result in a relatively higher under reporting
of Arab Americans.
While the 2000
Census accounted for some 1.25 million persons who self-identify
with an Arabic-speaking origin, our estimates (based on research
done by the Zogby International polling and marketing firm)
place the population at more than 3.5 million.
profile, hence, is derived from this self-identified group
and gives us useful, if not comprehensive, insights into the
residential patterns, achievements, and identity of Arab Americans.
Of the 1.25
million Arab Americans counted by the Census, roughly one
in three claim Lebanese heritage, with 11% indicating roots
in Egypt and Syria, 6% as Palestinian and 10% as Iraqi, Chaldean
or Assyrian. Because ancestry is an open-ended question (unlike
the race options) we learn that one in six self-identify not
by a country of origin, but generically as Arab, Arabian or
Arabic. This trend has increased since 1990 when less than
10% of Arab respondents indicated a generic identity.
at where subgroups tend to live, we learn that those of Lebanese
heritage dominate in most states, with the exception of New
Jersey - where those of Egyptian heritage are the largest
Arab group - and Rhode Island where persons of Syrian descent
exceed other Arab Americans.
The state with
the largest number of people tracing their roots to Palestine
was Illinois, which also claims a large number of Arab Americans
of Iraqi and Assyrian/Chaldean background. Michigan and California
similarly counted a large number of Arab Americans of Iraqi
and Assyrian/Chaldean heritage.
Morocco now represent 3% of the Arabic-speaking population,
a new immigrant community that resides primarily along the
eastern seaboard between Massachusetts and Virginia.
Gender and Family Status
Like most groups
with significant foreign-born segments, Arab ancestry respondents
are younger than the average American, with a median age of
30.8 compared to 35.4 years in the total population.
among younger ethnic communities is a higher male to female
ratio (1.12/1 among Arab Americans compared to .96/1 for all
Americans). Arab Americans have a slightly higher percentage
of persons now married (57% vs. 54% overall) and a slightly
lower rate of persons currently divorced (7% compared with
10% in the general population).
size among Arab ancestry respondents is 3.16 persons compared
with 2.59 persons in the average American household, and more
than one third (35%) have four or more members, compared to
one fourth in the general population.
and Place of Birth
popular assumptions and the current political climate that
foments suspicions about Arab American loyalties, more than
eight in ten Arabs living in the United States are citizens,
with a higher rate of naturalization (54%) than the overall
foreign born population (40%). Of those who identify an Arab
ancestry, about six in ten are U.S. born, although estimates
of the native-born ratio (accounting for the fourth and fifth
generation descendents of the first immigrant wave) are as
high as 75%.
Growth by new
immigration was significant, with more than one in four foreign-born
Arabs entering the U.S. in the decade since 1990. The agency
formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS) estimates that more than 300,000 Arabs immigrated to
America in this period, with the peak year at 1996.
immigration policy since the mid 1990s has caused a decline,
which is certain to be exacerbated by post September 11, 2001
visa delays and excess scrutiny.
Well-Educated and Bilingual Constituency
One of the
most impressive findings of Census data is the educational
achievement of Americans of Arab descent. More than four out
of ten of the Arab ancestry population have a bachelor's degree
or higher, compared to 24% of Americans at large.
Nearly twice as manyArab Americans
have a post-graduate degree (17%) as the average American
(9%), a trend that continues to increase.
Half of the Arab ancestry population is also bilingual, revealing
trends of Arabic language retention among the U.S.-born offspring
of immigrants. In a separate tabulation on foreign language
propensity, the Census reports that roughly 615,000 Americans
speak Arabic, including close to 125,000 school-aged children.
Arabic is ranked seventh among all foreign languages spoken
by American children in this age group. While there is some
evidence of linguistically isolated households among Arab
immigrants, a full 88% of those who speak Arabic also speak
the 2000 Census, Arab Americans have the same rate as other
Americans of employment in the civilian labor force (64%),
with only a slightly lower unemployment rate at the time the
Census was conducted (5% vs. 6%).
Trends in occupational achievement also show significant differences
and reflect the professional mobility offered by high educational
attainment. More than four in ten working age Arab Americans
are in professional or management jobs (42%) compared with
roughly one third of the country as a whole (34%).
of Arab ancestry respondents in retail or administrative jobs
(31%) is double the national average (15%), while only half
as many in the Arab ancestry group are employed in service
jobs (12%) as Americans overall (27%).
educational achievement and occupational mobility in management
and professional fields have resulted in higher than average
incomes for Arab Americans.
levels are not even in every area of Arab American concentration,
the average Arab American is better off financially than the
average American at large. Close to 30% of Arab ancestry respondents
report annual household income of more than $75,000 compared
with 22% of all Americans. Mean household income among Arab
respondents ($67,680) in 1999 exceeded the national average
($56,644) by more than $10,000.
and Geographic trends
of Americans nationwide who identify with an Arabic-speaking
ancestry grew by roughly 45% since the last Census taken in
1990. In six states, the Arab ancestry population at least
doubled, including Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut,
Alabama, and New Mexico.
Among the top
ten concentrated states, Arab ancestry identification increased
by at least one third, with most growth occurring in Illinois,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan. General residential
trends since the 1980s remain with two thirds of all Americans
who identify with Arab ancestry living in 10 states, with
one third residing in California, Michigan and New York.
States in which
Arab ancestry rates went down in the last decade include Maryland,
Rhode Island, Louisiana, West Virginia and Mississippi, trends
which could correspond with intra-state migration, lower immigration
rates and an aging American-born population. By contrast,
some states with lower new immigration experienced significant
rates of ancestry growth, indicating higher rates of ethnic
identification since 1990. Indiana, Connecticut, Alabama,
Washington and Missouri are examples of these.
concentration within states also varies. The overwhelming
majority of Americans who identify with an Arab ancestry reside
in a metropolitan area (94%) compared with 80% of the general
population. In some states, the population is densely clustered
in urban areas: Michigan, Florida, Virginia and Texas are
In states like
Ohio, New York, California and Pennsylvania, Arab Americans
can be found in most counties, even though the majority still
resides near big cities.
The top six U.S. metropolitan areas ranked by Arab American
population are: Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington,
D.C. and northeast New Jersey.
FOOTNOTE: When the Census
Bureau presents its data on Arab ancestry, it excludes some
subgroups from countries that are part of the Arab League,
such as Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania as well as Assyrians
and Chaldeans. We have included them whenever possible.)
Source : article in the Arab American Business Magazine
Samhan is executive director of the Arab American Institute
Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports
public information and education programs on the role of the
Arab American community in American society.