Asians have the highest median income of any race in the United States, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from 1970 to 2016. But the report, released last week, also shows that among Asians, the gap between those at the top of the income ladder and those at the bottom has almost doubled since 1970.
“When we’re talking about Asian Americans, we’re talking about immigrants,” Rakesh Kochhar, lead researcher of the report, said. “The diversity of this population ranges from refugees coming after the Vietnam War and people arriving due to family reunification and up to high-skilled technology workers and health care workers.”
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), in aggregate and on average, made more money than other groups, though the report noted that education and income varied widely among sub-groups.
For instance, about 75 percent of Indian adults in the United States have at least a college degree. By contrast, only 30 percent of Vietnamese and 20 percent of Laotians and Cambodians have degrees. For Chinese, Pakistanis, and Filipinos, the number is about 50 percent.
The Pew study also looked at waves of Asian immigration. Those who came as part of the group spurred by the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 were relatively low-skilled, but a second wave driven by the technology boom in the 1990s and the H-1B visa program brought relatively high-skilled workers to the country.
In 2016, the median income for AAPI adults adjusted for family size was $51,288, according to the report, compared to $47,958 for whites, $31,082 for Blacks, and $30,400 for Hispanics.
Income for AAPIs at the 90th percentile was also higher than whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, though those at the 10th percentile lived on $12,478, 17 percent less than whites. Blacks and Hispanics at that level trailed by even more, making $8,201 and $9,900, respectively.
Seema Agnani, the executive director of the nonprofit National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) said, “While AAPIs as a whole have been doing better, poor AAPIs have not and this is documented in growing poverty numbers.” She said, “The model minority myth obscures the economic conditions of the most vulnerable in our communities and undermines our opportunities to leverage resources and funding for them.”
CAPACD noted dramatic increases in the numbers of those living in poverty despite rising median household incomes, Agnani, who was not involved in the report, said.
This is why data disaggregation matters for AAPIs. Disaggregating data means breaking down information into smaller subpopulations. More than 17 million members of nearly 50 different races and ethnicities are generally lumped into one category — Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Disaggregating data about AAPIs is the most effective way to form evidence-based policy around the distinct needs of our diverse communities and identify unique barriers to access of services and resources at the local, state, and federal level. It can better guide the creation of inclusive and equitable policies for all Americans.