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Asians Face Widest Income Inequality Among U.S. Ethnic Groups

Asians Face Widest Income Inequality Among U.S. Ethnic Groups

  • Trend ‘connected entirely to the Asian immigrant experience’
  • More than three out of four Asians in U.S. are foreign born

An man shops for produce in San Francisco, Calif. on June 19, 2018. 

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Asians remain the most financially successful racial and ethnic group in the U.S., on average, according to new data from Pew Research Center, out-earning white, black and Hispanic adults at almost every level.

But the new research also points to gaping income inequality among Asians in the U.S. The fastest-growing ethnic group in America, the Asian community includes both longtime residents as well as newcomers from East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Pacific Islands.

“You’re looking at different cultures and languages and characteristics and different motivations for coming to the U.S.” Rakesh Kochhar, senior researcher at Pew and co-author of the report, said. “Asians are often pictured as the highest-achieving group in America, but it’s clear they are in fact the most economically divided ethnic group.”

Widest Gap

Asians in U.S. are the most economically divided among racial groups

Source: Pew Research Center

The gap between the highest- and lowest-earning Asians nearly doubled from 1970 to 2016, which Kochhar described as “connected entirely to the Asian immigrant experience.”

After the Vietnam War ended, thousands of refugees and displaced persons moved to the U.S. Compared to Asians already living in the U.S., a large share of the new immigrants had fewer skills and less education, Kochhar said. Changes in immigration policy that favored highly skilled immigrants again shifted the demographics of more recent Asian arrivals.

Immigrants make up a majority of the 20 million Asians living in the U.S. In 2016, 78 percent of Asian adults in the U.S. were foreign-born, up from 45 percent, according to a Pew study.

Income inequality is rising overall in the U.S. In 1970, people in the top 10 percent of the income distribution made 6.9 times more than people in the bottom 10 percent. By 2016, that gap had widened to 8.7 times.