Asian American poverty levels are still on the rise

Updated: 2013-12-18 11:12

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily USA)

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Report finds that 14 percent of adult Chinese Americans are poor

The recently released Pew Research Center report entitled The Rise of Asian Americans and other studies have focused primarily on the growing economic strength and size of the population. Less publicized are findings that the population of Asian Americans living in poverty is growing faster than any other ethnic group in the country. Nearly two million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) now live in poverty, according to a study released recently by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (NCAPACD).

Between 2007 and 2011, the number of AAPI poor rose by more than half a million, an increase of 38 percent, compared to the 27 percent increase in poverty among the general population. However, the increase reflects a dramatic jump in the size of the AAPI population at large. The poverty ratio has remained about the same, from around 12.8 percent of the AAPI population in 2007 to 13.1 percent in 2011.

The way policy makers and analysts group AAPIs can also create a skewed view of the population, said Melany de la Cruz Viesca, one of the authors of NCAPACD's report.

"When you lump all Asian American ethnic groups together, it masks tremendous differences of economic status of subgroups, because Asians are not a one-size-fits-all community," she said. "There are many people with real economic needs, who are being neglected because policy makers only pay attention to the positive performance of the larger group. Large sectors of the community are underserved because the data is not aggregated and understood completely."

According to the report, 14 percent of adult Chinese Americans live in poverty, compared to 12 percent of all Asian Americans or 13 percent of the US population overall. Increasingly, the Chinese Americans who subsist under the poverty line are native born to the US, with non-poor Chinese Americans growing in numbers due to immigration.

When looking at the Chinese American population, several factors can skew the results, de la Cruz Viesca said. When Nielsen released a consumer report earlier this month indicating that Asian American households outspend US households by an average of 19 percent and earn 28 percent more than the median income, the findings failed to note that multi-generational homes are far more common among Asian Americans than among the general population, she said. An analysis of per capita income would likely produce different results, she noted.

Portions of the Chinese population also tend to arrive with higher education levels and earn higher incomes, skewing results for the larger community, she said. For example, de la Cruz Viesca found that when excluding Taiwan-born immigrants from the sample, 11 percent of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles live in poverty; compared to seven percent of Taiwan-born Chinese Americans, she said.

Many Chinese American immigrants arrive in the US with limited education and few prospects, she said. This population is more likely to work in service industry jobs, falling under the radar.

Asian American poor populations are more likely to live in highly concentrated areas with people of similar or mixed ethnicities who are also poor, rather than in predominantly white neighborhoods, as is the case with other poor populations.

A higher percentage of the Asian American poor population is elderly, and lower language comprehension can contribute to the problem, according to Josh Ishimatsu, director of research at NCAPACD.

Additionally, poor AAPIs are disproportionately likely to live in urban areas with high housing costs. According to the report, 47 percent of Asian Americans live in the 20 most expensive real estate markets in the US, more than any other ethnic poverty group in the US. Living in a high-cost housing market can also contribute to the incidence of multi-generational homes, de la Cruz Viesca said.

NCAPACD's recommendations for slowing the growth of the AAPI poverty population include neighborhood-specific approaches that target individual communities with an understanding of how many ethnic groups comprise the Asian American community; finding ways to provide affordable housing; focusing on caring for the elderly AAPI population; and taking advantage of the high concentration of AAPIs in small geographic areas utilizing focused resources.

"None of this is simple or black and white," de la Cruz Viesca said.

(China Daily USA 12/18/2013 page2)