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NAKASEC Publishes Statistical Reports on Korean Americans


by Jerry Winzig


The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, Inc. (NAKASEC), a non-profit organization that seeks to empower Korean Americans through education and advocacy, has published two important statistical reports on Korean Americans.  The first report, "A Demographic Profile of Korean Americans," provides an overview of current social and demographic census data on the Korean American community.  The second report, "An Economic Profile of Korean Americans," is a compilation of available economic data regarding the Korean American community.


One important finding of the demographic profile was that Asian Pacific Americans constitute the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States; their numbers have almost tripled since 1980, reaching almost 10 million in 1996.  Korean Americans make up an important part of this group.  A recent study by the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies at the University of Southern California estimated that there were 1.63 million people of Korean heritage in the United States as of 1995.  That study also reported that 528,000 Korean Americans, almost one-third of the total, live in one state, California.


The first wave of Korean immigrants began arriving in the United States in 1903.  Within ten years, 7.200 Koreans, mostly men, came to Hawaii as replacement workers on the sugar plantations.  Then, from 1910 to 1924, these workers sponsored 1,100 "picture brides.  But this early immigration was curtailed by three important pieces of legislation, the Alien Land Act of 1913, which prohibited Korean Americans from owning land and limited leases in California, the anti-immigration legislation of 1924, which cut off Asian immigration, and the Alien Registration Act of 1940, which classified Koreans as subjects of Japan.  (In 1942, Korean Americans were even categorized as "enemy aliens" by the U.S. government.)


The U.S. involvement in the Korean War in the 1950s paved the way for the second wave of Korean immigrants.  Annual reports of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for 1950 to 1964 indicate that 15,049 Koreans immigrated to the United States; 6,423 were women married to U.S. servicemen, and 5,348 were adoptees.  During that same period, 27,460 Koreans entered the U.S. as non-immigrants, and many of these were later able to adjust their status to become legal permanent residents.


The third wave of Korean immigration began in 1965, with passage of the Immigration Act that was passed as a product of the U.S. civil rights movement and removed discriminatory racial quotas and prioritized family reunification.


NAKASEC's demographic profile points out that "[T]hree distinct groups have played a significant role in the formation of the Korean American community today.  They are Korean adoptees, Korean women married to U.S. servicemen and Korean students studying in the U.S."  The accompanying chart on Korean adoptees shows that for a 13-year period starting in 1976, Korean adoptees made up half or more of all international adoptions in the U.S.    The chart on Korean women shows that the immigration of Korean women married to U.S. servicemen peaked at 7,710 in 1978.  The chart on Korean immigration shows that total Korean immigration was near or above 30,000 per year for an 18-year period, beginning in 1973, and began tapering off in the late 1980s as the South Korean economy began to prosper.


NAKASEC's economic profile reveals complex economic realities about Korean Americans.  For example, the overall Korean American poverty rate is 15%, just slightly above the national average for all Americans.  However, the poverty rate for Korean Americans 65 and older is 22.4%, well above that of elderly Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Chinese Americans, but only slightly above that of Vietnamese Americans.  When asked to comment on this, Sungkyu Yun, NAKASEC's Education Director, pointed out that "Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino Americans are older and more established communities.  In addition, many Korean elderly came to this nation at the invitation of their sons and daughters and have experienced difficulty in adjusting to their new surroundings."


One highlight of the economic profile is the high self-employment rate for the Korean American community.  As the chart on 1990 self-employment rate shows, the self-employment rate for Korean men and women far exceeds not only the U.S average rate, but also the rates for Laotian Americans, Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Japanese Americans, Asian Indian Americans, and Chinese Americans.  NAKESEC's Sungkyu Yun attributes this to the combination of several factors: "the lack of proficiency in English, a high number of recent immigrants, the lack of opportunity in stable and well-paying jobs, small business know-how (many Korean Americans have friends or relatives who already own small businesses), and a good infrastructure (many Korean Americans have a basic foundation in banking, commerce, the wholesale trade, etc.)."


According to the 1992 Economic Census of the U.S. Census Bureau, there were almost 105,000 Korean American businesses in the United States, with sales in excess of $16 billion.  These businesses are even more concentrated in California than the Korean American population.  The 1987 survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises indicated that 40.6% of all Korean American-owned businesses were located in California, and another 10.4% were located in New York.


Copies of each report can be obtained for $6 from NAKASEC, either through their web site ( or by calling their national office in New York at 718-445-3939.


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