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

Blanche Robertson
July 14, 2018

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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.

Income inequality has risen steadily among all Americans since the 1970s.

Overall, Asians in America are the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the country, though the poorest among that group lagged in making significant gains in recent decades.

Asians remain the most financially successful racial and ethnic group in the US, on average, according to new data from Pew Research Center, out-earning white, black and Hispanic adults at nearly every level. During the period from 1970-1990, the proportion of Asian immigrants who worked in high-skill jobs decreased while those in low-skill positions rose. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Asian-Americans are still overwhelmingly foreign-born: As of 2016, 78% of Asian-Americans were born outside of the USA, up from 45% in 1970.

Once considered one of the "most equal" groups in terms of incomes, Asian Americans have collectively transformed to be defined by vast financial disparities, with those in the top 10 percent earning 10.7 times as much as Asians in the bottom 10 percent.

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Asian immigration surged after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which favored family reunification.

The Immigration Act of 1990 then changed focus to bringing in more skilled immigrants just as the information technology sector was poised to explode.

"Asian immigrants have come from a wide diversity of countries and their education profiles vary quite a bit", Kochhar says. Many are skilled H-1B workers from countries like India, but others are refugees from the likes of Bhutan and Vietnam.

"You're looking at different cultures and languages and characteristics and different motivations for coming to the U.S".

While income for rich Asian Americans skyrocketed over the last four decades, incomes for poor Asian Americans barely budged. During that time, the gap in the standard of living between Asians near the top and the bottom of the income ladder almost doubled. In 1970, the wealthiest Asians earned 6.1 times as much as the poorest Asians. Asians in the bottom 10 percent increased their earnings by only 11 percent during this time to $12,478 - less than the earnings of lower-income whites, who made $15,094 in 2016.

Among all Americans in 2016, the wealthiest earned 8.7 times as much as the poorest - a steady but more moderate increase in the wealth gap from 1970, when the wealthiest Americans earned 6.9 times as much as the poorest.

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