Aug 31, 2021 - News

The Des Moines metro's growing Asian population

Percentage of population that is Asian
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Communities of color are growing across the metro, but some of the largest percentage gains are in our Asian American communities, especially in the suburbs.

  • Polk County saw its Asian population increase 61% since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Dallas County saw an even bigger jump, at 201%.

What's happening: Refugees who identify as Burmese, Karen and Chin are some of our newest and fastest-growing populations in the last ten years.

  • In 2009, Iowa only had a few hundred immigrants who fled from conflict in Myanmar. Now, there's more than 10,000 Burmese people in Iowa and 2,000 Chin in Des Moines, Alex Thawng, president of the Iowa Chin Community, told Axios.
  • Many of these families are settling in Des Moines' suburbs, like West Des Moines, Urbandale, Clive and Windsor Heights, Thawng said.

But why here? Programs are available to assist refugees across Iowa, through entities like Iowa Department of Human Services and nonprofit EMBARC, Thawng said.

  • Jobs were also available. Families found work at places like JBS and Tyson to start out at and encouraged relatives to also come and work.
  • Social networks like family and church have also been key to providing support. Des Moines grew from one Chin church in 2010 to 14 now, Thawng said.

The big picture: The influx of refugees was one of the reasons why Windsor Heights and other Iowa communities didn't lose population, said State Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, who's also a local minister.

  • Some of the churches she speaks at are filled with young, refugee families who want to build a life here. That's especially needed as we struggle to find workers, she said.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more