A new study by UCLA researcher Dr. Paul Ong revealed that Asian Americans win the fewest contracts when it comes to local, state, and federal minority government-contracting programs.
“We were disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that disparity still exists across the board,” said Aarathi D. Haig, staff attorney at Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), who leads the Asian American Contractor Empowerment Project. “While some progress has been made, racial discrimination unfortunately is still alive and well.”
AAJC commissioned the study, which focused on government contracting in the San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Ong’s work follows up on a broader study he did for AAJC in 2008. While the new findings are of particular interest to Asian American communities in the regions studied, national trends can be extrapolated from his new findings. Among these are:
- Korean Americans have the highest self-employment rate among Asian Americans, but they still do not earn as much as their non-Latino white counterparts, even after controlling for education and other characteristics.
- Controlling for other factors, race still affects differences in self-employment rates, earnings potential, and incorporation rates.
- Racial discrimination has created a significant barrier for Asian Americans to enter social networks, where contracting deals often originate and close.
After discussing the uphill battle Asian Americans face in landing government contracts, Oiyan Poon, one of the project’s research assistants, recommended that Asian American business owners, chambers of commerce, and community leaders become more politically engaged.
“No one else is going to do it for you,” Haig advised. “If exclusion of Asian Americans can happen in Chicago, it can happen anywhere. It’s up to us to fight our own battle.”
In 2003, Asian Americans were excluded from the city of Chicago’s Minority Business Enterprise program because there was insufficient evidence of racial discrimination against them to justify their inclusion. After significant community organizing and demonstrations of political leadership, quantitative and qualitative data in the form of testimonials were produced that demonstrated that Asian American contractors in Chicago did indeed face discrimination.
That jolt spurred Asian Americans in Chicago to pay closer attention and become more involved in the Windy City’s civic life. Momentum has remained strong, resulting in the uncontested inclusion of Asian Americans during the program’s 2009 reauthorization.
“Asian American business owners need to take time out of their busy schedules to engage in local politics,” Haig said. “Whether it’s running for office themselves, supporting someone with a pro-Asian American business agenda, or simply casting a ballot on election day, we need to join the community at large in creating the change we want.”
The full study will be released and available to the public before Thanksgiving, Poon said. ♦