A groundbreaking report released on March 25, 2014, reveals that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) are one of the fastest-growing racial groups but face high rates of poverty and barriers to quality health care and educational opportunities for their youth. A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 2014, released by Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) compiles data that reveal a host of social and economic disparities facing this growing, but often invisible, community.
The NHPI community grew 40 percent over the decade, and now there are more than 1.2 million NHPIs living in the U.S. According to Census Bureau projections, there will be nearly 2 million NHPIs by 2030.
Despite the growth, NHPI communities remain invisible. Although the Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Directive 15 (OMB 15) requires federal agencies to collect and publish data on NHPIs separate from Asian Americans, few comply with this guidance. As a result, the unique needs of NHPI communities are masked under a broader “Asian Pacific Islander” umbrella.
“Data is a vital tool in helping to raise the visibility of our community,” said Tana Lepule, EPIC executive director. “When you see the figures, you can see that we’re veterans, small business owners and voters. But you can also see that many of our families live in poverty and many of our youth face educational challenges. This report can help paint a fuller picture of our community.”
In addition to general demographics, the report includes social and economic data pulled from the Census Bureau and other sources. For example, education data in the report reveal that NHPIs face low admissions and enrollment rates to 4-year colleges. National education statistics show that only about 38 percent of NHPI college-aged youth were in college in 2011, a rate lower than average. Once in college, NHPIs have low rates of graduating college in four years.
“Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders share many similarities with other communities of color when it comes to under representation in higher education,” says Sefa Aina, EPIC board chairman and associate dean and director of Asian American Resources Center at Pomona College. “Programs that provide a pipeline from high school to college and integrate our community’s culture and values are critical in ensuring that our youth are on a pathway to success.”
In addition to education data, the report also notes the economic challenges faced by NHPIs. During the recession, the number of NHPIs who were unemployed increased 123 percent and the number living in poverty increased 56 percent, rates higher than any racial group. One-third of NHPIs are low-income and the majority are renters.
“Like many other communities, NHPI were impacted by the recession and are still trying to recover,” said Fahina Tavake-Pasi, National Tongan American Society executive director. “Economic issues are tied to the educational and health disparities we see in our communities.”
Health care is another critical issue. NHPIs face high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Cancer is the fastest-growing cause of death among Native Hawaiians, Samoan Americans, and Guamanian or Chamorro Americans. At the same time, many NHPIs lack access to quality, culturally appropriate care. One in seven does not have health insurance; a rate higher than it is for whites.
“Culturally appropriate health programs are vital in addressing the health disparities facing NHPIs,” said JoAnn Tsark, Papa Ola Lokahi research director. “Addressing the challenges facing our community requires advocates who respect our self-determination and are willing to support community capacity building to create effective programs that are based on our cultural values.”
A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 2014 was made possible by the generous support of the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, Cyrus Chung Ying Tang Foundation and Bank of America.