Under the Census microscope: Hmong Minnesotans

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The first Hmong immigrants to the United States arrived in 1975. Over the next few years, a small handful of them were allowed to immigrate. Future Minnesota Senate Majority Whip Mee Moua arrived with her family in 1978 and future Minnesota State Representative Cy Thao arrived in 1980. That same year Congress passed the Refugee Act which accelerated the migration of Hmong to America.

The first census to measure Hmong Americans in any detail was the 1990 census. By then, 90,082 people listed Hmong as their ethnic group, with 16,833 of them (18.3%) living in Minnesota and 46,892 (52%) living in California. As time went on, Hmong-Americans moved to the Midwest, so that by the time of the 2000 Census, half of the 169,428 people who listed themselves as Hmong lived in the region and 45,443 lived in Minnesota.

The 2000 Census was the first one that allowed respondents to list more than one race, and 16,882 people listed Hmong as one of their races in addition to others, with 3,643 of these residents living in Minnesota.

The most recent measure of Hmong in the United States by the Census is in the 2006-2008 American Community Survey (ACS) three-year estimates.The ACS found 192,575 Hmong in the United States, with one in four living in Minnesota.

The 1980 Refugee Act allowed Hmong immigrants to bring their families to America. The 1990 Census found that two-thirds of Hmong Americans were foreign-born. Ten years later the Census found 55.6 percent of Hmong Americans were foreign-born while 44.4 percent were born in the United States. The number of foreign-born Hmong residents shrank still more in the 2006-2008 ACS to 44.8 percent. In Minnesota, the number of native-born Hmong is slightly higher than foreign-born Hmong.

Three-quarters of the Hmong who were foreign-born were under the age of ten in 1990. The median age of Hmong-Americans in 1990 was 12.5. By 2000 it had moved up to 16.1 nationally and to 15.9 in Minnesota. In 2008 the median age had moved up still higher to 19.7 nationally, while in Minnesota the median age was slightly lower than the national median at 19.2.

Compared to other Asian ethnic groups, in 1990 Hmong had the largest average family size at 6.6. The size dropped to 6.51 in 2000, with Minnesota dropping further to 6.42. In 2008 the average size dropped substantially to 5.34 nationally and 5.19 in Minnesota. By comparison, the national average family size for all groups was 2.63 in 1990 and 2.62 in 2000.

Economic Gains

In 1990, Hmong-Americans were in terrible economic shape. They had the lowest labor participation rates (29.3 percent) of any Asian ethnic group. They also had the lowest per capita income ($2,692) and the highest poverty rate (63.6 percent) among Asian ethnic groups. Over the next ten years, labor participation would double and poverty rates would be cut in half. In Minnesota, the labor participation rate was 53.1 percent, while 31.6 percent of families and 32.7 percent of individuals were still living below the poverty line.

This trend continued throughout the decade. By 2008, 63.7 percent of Hmong participated in the workforce, with participation of females comparable to the population at large. Per capita income reached $10,957. Poverty rates had dropped even further, with 24.7 percent of families and 27.1 percent of individuals living in poverty. Similar progress was made in Minnesota, with a labor participation rate of 62.8 percent and an average per capita income of $10,793. Minnesota Hmong poverty rates were 27.2 percent for families and 29.6 percent for individuals.

In Minnesota, most Hmong have taken jobs in either management, professional, sales or office occupations or have gone into the education, health and social services sectors. In California, Hmong have gone into these professions as well as manufacturing, production and transportation and service occupations in large numbers.


In 1990, Hmong American educational achievement lagged behind that of other Asian American groups, with 44.1 percent of Hmong men graduating high school (compared to 89.1 percent of Japanese men) and only seven percent of Hmong men with a bachelor's degree or higher (compared to 65.7 percent of Indian men). Women were even further behind, with 19 percent graduating high school and three percent with a bachelor's degree or higher. By 2000, national figures showed that 40.4% had education past high school but 7.5% had a bachelor's degree or higher. In Minnesota, 44.9% of Hmong residents had a high school diploma or higher, and 8.5% had a bachelor's degree or higher.

Over the next decade, Hmong made significant gains in education, with the ACS estimates in 2008 showing 60 percent being a high school graduate or higher, and 12 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher. Some 61 percent of Hmong in Minnesota had achieved high school graduation or higher and 13.2 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher.


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