How the Koreans in New York City evolved

The history of Korean immigration in the New York City area is rich with lessons about the pathways for an immigrant population.

Due to racist immigration restrictions, there were hardly any Koreans in the United States before the 1965 reform act. There was a surge between the mid 1970s and the 1990s, then a subsiding, as economic and political conditions on Korea improved. About one tenth of them came to the New York City area. For the most part they were not well educated and had problems with English. They lived in enclaves in Queens.

They took to self-employment, starting or buying small businesses as neighborhood groceries in poor communities. The Korean grocery became a common feature. Korean grocers served a traditional economic function of middlemen between economic classes. Then, grocery chains killed off the neighborhood grocery, and they turned to services for the middle class—nail salons and dry cleaners. Koreans currently dominate these sectors. Immigrants in the U.S. are more than native Americans inclined to running small businesses because they offer compared to employment relatively better economic prospects.

In the area in Lower Manhattan, at Broadway and 32nd St., became known as Korea Town due to the concentration of import and wholesale companies….these companies have almost completely left and the area transformed to Korean restaurants, salons and shops.

Gradually more formally educated Koreans arrived, such as graduate students who may have studied on the West Coast and migrated to New York. Starting in the 1990s, and accelerating after 2000, many Koreans left New York City for middle class communities in Bergen County in New Jersey, where there are a lot of Korean amenities.

There about 150,000 Korean immigrants in the New York City area now. Nationwide, these immigrants are better educated than native born Americans. The Korean population for the entire country, one million, has been flat for some years.

Much of this is from a chapter on Koreans in New York City by Pyong Gap Min, in One out of three: Immigrant New York in the 21st Century.

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