Academic journal article Social Work

Asian and Pacific Island Elders: Issues for Social Work Practice and Education

Academic journal article Social Work

Asian and Pacific Island Elders: Issues for Social Work Practice and Education

Article excerpt

The increasing numbers of aging people and the dramatic growth of America's ethnic and minority populations have resulted in greater demands for gerontological social workers sensitive to multicultural issues. This need is further accentuated by recent studies and reports that document the shortage of professionally trained social workers to serve older adults and their families (National Institute on Aging, 1987; Peterson, 1988) and data from the 1990 census that document the dramatic growth in the number of minority Americans (Bryant, 1991).

Ten percent of Americans 65 and older belonged to minority groups in 1980, and projections estimate that 20 percent of the nation's elderly population will be minorities by the year 2050 (U.S. Senate, 1989). Three factors predict a higher proportion of elder minorities in the next two decades: (1) the proportion of minorities in the total population is rising; (2) the elderly population is growing faster in minority groups than it is in the white population (Morrison, 1990); and (3) immigration is expected to contribute to increasing numbers of minority aged people (Torres-Gil, 1990). This article examines selected sociodemographic characteristics of the Asian and Pacific Island elderly population and discusses the implications for gerontological social work practice and education in ensuring quality of life for these elders and their families.

Definition of the Population

The Asian and Pacific Island population is an extremely diverse population composed of more than 30 cultures. Asians include but are not limited to Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Asian Indians, Thais, Hmong, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Cambodians, and Lao. Pacific Islanders include Polynesians (Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans), Micronesians (Chamorros |the indigenous people of Guam~ and other groups), and Melanesians (Fijians) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1988). Each of these Asian and Pacific Island groups represents a culture unique in language, values, lifestyles, history, and patterns of movement and adaptation to America (Yip, 1990).

According to Ishisaka and Takagi (1982), "Asian and Pacific Islander" is an umbrella term that emerged during the civil rights movements and minority protests in the 1960s. Use of the term was a political stratagem to garner support in numbers and to build on loyalty and common concerns. As such, it has been successful, and yet it has also masked the many differences among the groups included in the category.

Data from the 1990 census indicate that the Asian and Pacific Island population, comprising 7,273,662 of the nation's nearly 250 million people, doubled in size between 1980 and 1990 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991). The prior census also reported dramatic surges in Asian and Pacific Islanders, identifying a 120 percent growth rate between 1970 and 1980 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1985). Whereas the total U.S. population grew by nearly 10 percent from 1980 to 1990, the Asian and Pacific Island population grew by 108 percent, compared with 6 percent for whites, 13 percent for blacks, 38 percent for Native Americans/Eskimos/Aleuts, and 53 percent for Hispanics (Bryant, 1991). Data from the 1980 census identified 221,509 Asian and Pacific Islanders who were 65 and older (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990).

Ethnic Diversity

A key factor in describing Asian and Pacific Island older adults is understanding their ethnic diversity. The Asian and Pacific Island population is primarily Asian (93 percent), and the largest Asian groups are the Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Asian Indians, Indochinese, and Koreans (Liu & Yu, 1985). Of the remaining 7 percent who are Pacific Islander, Hawaiians are the most numerous (66 percent), followed by Samoans (15 percent), Chamorros (12 percent), and smaller numbers of other Pacific Islanders (Liu & Yu, 1985).

Geographic Location

The six states with the highest number of Asian and Pacific Islanders are California, Hawaii, New York, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey (U. …

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