Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Blog

Recently, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) released a report called Arab Households in the United States: 2006–2010.  Using data from the 2010 census, the report is meant to serve as a snapshot of the Arab American population.

Examining the ACS’ brief, it’s quite clear that one fundamental issue exists with the way the Census counts the Arab American community. As AAI executive director Maya Berry put it in a recent interview with NPR’s Code Switch, "The census undercounts our community. It always has." According to the Census Bureau’s ACS report, there are approximately 1.5 million Americans of Arab descent in the United States. In contrast, AAI says the number is more than 3.6 million.

So, why are the AAI and Census Bureau numbers so different?

That is a complicated question, but fundamentally, AAI and the Census use different definitions of who constitutes an Arab American. According to the ACS report, Americans who can trace their origins back to a total of seventeen Arab countries are counted as Arab American. AAI, however, counts Americans who can trace their origins to the twenty-two countries belonging to the Arab League. Those not included in the Census count are Somalia, Sudan, Mauritania, Comoros, and Djibouti.

For a more detailed explanation of the distinction between AAI’s method of determining Arab Americans population and that of the Census, click here.

Though the Census Bureau undercounts the Arab American population, the ACS report does contain some important data. Take, for example, statistics on the discrepancy in medium income between more recent and older immigrant Arab American groups:

The median household income for all households in the United States about $4,500 dollars lower than the median household income for Arab households ($56,433—see Figure 2). Lebanese households had the highest median income ($67,264), while Iraqi and Yemeni households had lower median incomes ($32,075 and $34,667, respectively) than the other selected Arab ancestry groups.

The gap in income gives us important insight into the amount of resources and services needed to allocate to struggling communities. As Maya Berry explains in the aforementioned NPR article, the income gap highlighted by the ACS numbers is “an opportunity to look at the kinds of services offered to the community and ask, 'Are we giving sufficient resources?'"