NYC’s Asian Poverty Matches Black, Hispanic Poverty

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How well off are Asians in this country? It depends on how you look at it.

The wealth of a typical U.S. household of Asian descent is $536,000 – or nearly two times the wealth of a typical White household – according to the Federal Reserve’s 2022 Survey of Consumer Finances, the first in its long-running series to report separately on the national data it collects on Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants. 

Prominent examples of the country’s wealthiest Asian-Americans include Steve Chen, who co-founded YouTube, which he sold to Google for $1 billion. Jin Sook-Chang made her first billion after starting the fast-fashion retailer Forever 21. And Andy Fang, a co-founder of DoorDash, is one of the world’s youngest billionaires.

Bar graph showing poverty rates in NYC by race

But these and other rich entrepreneurs distract from the poverty that is also a salient feature of this community. In Columbia University’s new report on its regular surveys of New York City residents, the 24 percent poverty rate in the city’s highly diverse Asian immigrant and Asian-American populations roughly equals the poverty rate for its Blacks and Latinos.

One reason for this is that the majority of the city’s largest Asian population – people of Chinese descent – are immigrants. The more recent immigrants from China, as well as India and Korea, have limited English proficiency or face other barriers to accessing jobs and government assistance.

Foreign-born Asians in the large enclave of Queens and in other boroughs have a poverty rate of 27 percent, compared with just 9 percent for U.S.-born New Yorkers of Asian descent. Poverty is particularly concentrated among people over age 65.

“Asian Americans in New York City experience high rates of poverty alongside other communities of color,” Columbia’s report concluded. “Many fail to appreciate this fact given pervasive racial stereotypes about Asian Americans as a ‘model minority.’ ”

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1 comment

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Current Population Survey data show that, nationwide, Asians are doing better, on average, than whites across most metrics. Poverty rates vary enormously by country or origin, educational attainment, and immigration status and it is not helpful to speak of “Asians” as a group. Furthermore, studies looking for a high poverty rate typically include illegal immigrants, who are included in CPS data. It is questionable to what extent, if at all, tax dollars should be directed towards alleviating their condition.

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