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Arab Americans: A Community Portrait

The Arab American community is much larger and more diverse than it has ever been. The total population of Arab Americans is about 2 million according to the U.S. Census, and as large as 3.6 million according to some Arab American community organizations.

This report was created by ACCESS, the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the nation, as a product of its Arab American Research Initiative to secure better data on the national community. As the leading Arab American community-based organization, ACCESS has worked, for nearly 50 years, as a service provider. The agency services approximately 70,000 individuals from disenfranchised communities—primarily those representing the Arab American community—on an annual basis. This on-the-ground experience has allowed for a comprehensive understanding of the needs and challenges facing this critically underrepresented community. ACCESS is committed to utilizing its resources to foster research on Arab Americans in the areas of health, economic mobility, education, community building, culture and philanthropy. Specifically, ACCESS’s Arab Health Summit is a platform that brings together academics, health leaders and practitioners to share their research on issues that affect Arab communities locally and globally.

The data in this report shows that although most Arabs and other Middle Easterners are counted within the “White” racial category on the U.S. Census, Arab Americans have distinct issues and experiences that are only apparent when Arabs are disaggregated from the White racial category. The unique issues that Arab Americans face vary depending on country of origin, immigration status, and city of residence. ACCESS hopes that this report will help make the case for Arab Americans to be counted as part of a broader Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) community in the Census.

Data for this report was compiled by disaggregating Arab ancestries from the White racial category on the American Community Survey, and therefore does not incorporate data from Arabs who may identify as Black, such as Sudanese or Somalis. The “Total Population” graph below is one exception, as it includes Arabs counted within the White and Black racial categories.

Nationally, Arab Americans tend to be more highly educated, have higher income and higher rates of home ownership than the general U.S. population. Arab Americans also tend to be younger and are more likely to be an immigrant than the general population. However, national level data on Arab Americans obscures regional variations, such as disadvantaged communities in the Detroit and Chicago metro areas. ACCESS believes that with better local and national data on the community, we can address these disparities and create a more empowered and prosperous Arab American community. This report is one step in that direction.

Among Arabs living in the United States:

National Comparisons

The following charts compare characteristics of the Arab American population to Non-Hispanic (NH) Whites and the total U.S. population. Note that “Arab” and “Non-Hispanic White” are not mutually exclusive categories. The Census considers Arab to be an ancestry, while White is a race; and in fact the Census guidelines consider most Arabs to be part of the White racial group. (Non-Hispanic refers to a third concept, ethnicity, which only deals with "Hispanic or Latino origin" and can apply to members of any race or ancestry.)

Education, Poverty, and Family Size

At the national level, the Arab American community looks like a paradox: Arab Americans are more likely to have a college degree than the White population, but also less likely to have graduated from high school. The data shows that where someone’s family immigrated from and when, influences not only where in the U.S. they may live, but their socio-economic status as well. Family size and poverty are also interlinked. Poverty on this table is indicated by living at 125% or below the poverty line. A multigenerational household refers to two or more generations living in the same household.

Healthcare

The American Community Survey only covers two health-related issues: disability and health insurance. National comparisons show that Arab Americans are more likely to be uninsured and more likely to have public health insurance than both the Non-Hispanic White and the general populations.

Language Barrier

Depending on how long an individual has been in the United States, language barriers can be obstacles to integrating into American society. A linguistically isolated household is one in which no one over the age of 14 is proficient in English. While linguistic isolation may pose challenges to an immigrant’s ability to integrate into the larger society, Arab American communities with high rates of linguistic isolation, such as metro Detroit, also have many services and institutions that directly serve Arabic-speaking immigrants, which can improve integration.

Arab Minorities in Major Metropolitan Areas

Choose a metropolitan area to power the charts below:

This chart shows the population of the top 5 self-reported Arab ancestries for the selected location.

Customize the chart below by clicking on the blue filters and selecting your preferred socioeconomic characteristics:

Although the national portrait of Arab Americans shows a community that is generally thriving, there are regional variations.

For example, because the Detroit metro area receives such a high number of refugees and recent immigrants from Arab countries, Arab Americans in Detroit are more likely to be impoverished and have a lower level of educational attainment than Arab Americans in other metro regions. ACCESS is pushing, at state and federal levels, to secure better data on the Arab American community so we can better address the needs of this unique population. 

About the Data

This report is a project of the ACCESS Arab American Research Initiative. The data was compiled by Dr. Jen’nan Read (Duke University) and Dr. Kristine Ajrouch (Eastern Michigan University) with assistance from Jessica West (Duke University).

Data is from the 2010-2014 5-year estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Unlike the decennial Census—which is meant to be an exact count of all people and households in the U.S. every 10 years—the ACS estimates population characteristics through a representative survey sample carried out in small regions of the U.S. throughout the year.

The ACS releases two kinds of data: one-year and five-year estimates. The one-year estimates provide more current data, but are not available for small locations like census tracts, and are unreliable for small demographic slices. The five-year estimates are meant to approximate the characteristics of the entire U.S. population, and therefore provide greater detail and accuracy by widening the period of the survey.

Additional Resources

ACCESS Homepage: Learn more about ACCESS

Arab American Research Initiative

• Arab Health Summit: A global call to action on health equity and social justice

LiveStats: US Family Structure and Composition

LiveStats: US Population Demographics and Statistics