Economic Policy


Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders Face Challenges in Education, Healthcare, Employment, and Housing

The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) population has grown by 40% in the past decade (2000-2010), the third fastest growing ethnic group after Asian Americans and Latinos. There are currently over 1.2 million NHPIs living in the United States, with an expected increase to over 2 million by 2030. According to the 2010 US Census, ethnic groups in the NHPI population include Native Hawaiian, Samaon, Tongan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Marshallese, Tahitian, Papua New Guinean among others.

Despite being one of the fastest growing racial groups as well as an increasing percentage of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI)-owned businesses (30% between 2002 -2007), these communities continue to face challenges. In a new report that provides disaggregated data for NHPI communities, NHPI are shown to face challenges in accessing higher education, attaining affordable and quality healthcare, stabilizing jobs, and securing affordable housing.


Highlights from the report include:

  • Only 18% of NHPI have a bachelor’s degree, which is similar to the percentage for Blacks/African Americans. In 2011, about 38% of youth were enrolled in college, which is below the national average. Furthermore, only 23% of NHPI undergraduates completed their degree within 4 years compared to 45% for Asian and Pacific Islander students (an aggregated percentage).
  • NHPI have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than the average, and also had an increase by 170% in suicide deaths between 2005 to 2010. Despite these selected statistics, only 1 in 7 NHPI have health insurance, and 18% of NHPI did not see a doctor because of healthcare costs.
  • The number of unemployed NHPI increased 123% between 2007-2011, which is a percentage higher than any other racial/ethnic group. Simultaneously, the number of NHPI living in poverty increased by 56% during the same time period.
  • The number of incarcerated NHPI increased 144% between 2002 and 2010.

To address these disparities, the report had the following recommendations:

  • Develop culturally appropriate education retention and recruitment programs that also encourage enrollment into higher education institutions.
  • Increase social safety net programs.
  • Create living-wage jobs.
  • Fund programs that address homeownership, small business ownership, and employment disparities.
  • Employ culturally appropriate strategies for outreach, education, and preventive services directly through venues that service NHPI communities, such as federally qualified health centers.
  • Provide culturally competent training for law enforcement about NHPI communities and histories.

Joanne Chan, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, Harvard School of Public Health