May 24, 2023 - News

Iowa's Asian immigrant population is quickly growing

Share of Iowans 25 years or older who have graduated high school
Data: American Community Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

Immigrants from Asia are one of Iowa's fastest-growing populations, according to U.S. Census data from 2017-'21 and the Iowa Data Center.

Why it matters: Iowa's population growth has been sluggish for decades as more residents leave rural areas, as well as the state altogether.

  • Local experts say one of the best ways to help revitalize rural areas and gain enough workers to sustain the local economy is to ease immigration into the state.

By the numbers: Iowa's largest foreign-born population from '17-'21 came from Latin America (64,231), with the largest portion from Mexico (41,503).

  • The second largest group came from Asia (62,804).

Zoom in: In Des Moines, the largest foreign-born group was from Asia (11,178), with the majority of those people hailing from southeast Asia (7,385).

  • The most common populations represented were from Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

State of play: Many of the people who migrated to Iowa from Asia were refugees, especially more recently from Burma and Thailand.

  • Existing families in the state and support networks have also encouraged more relatives to come here.
  • Jobs availability, including work in meatpacking plants like JBS and Tyson, has played a role, too.

The big picture: While the model minority myth falsely shows Asian Americans in Iowa doing well, there are still struggles and disparities — especially for refugees in low-paying factory jobs or kids learning English as a second language.

  • The poverty rate for Iowa's Asian American and Pacific Islander community in 2021 was 12.8% in comparison to the state's 11%.
  • The AAPI high school graduation rate for those 25 and over was 77% in comparison to the state's 92%.

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