STUDY: Asian-American Financial Diversity Overlooked

By Michael Nam


Photo by Shutterstock

Are Asian-Americans so very wealthy Media reporting of late suggests a monolithic rise of Asian-American prosperity, but a new study breaks down financial data among the various sub-groups in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) demographic to show a nuanced view of the various s obstacles that face those who identify as AAPI.

Data from the survey released by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD) delves into the issues of poverty, financial vulnerability and lack of targeted services and resources, breaking down not only the specific countries of origin, but age, gender, citizenship and immigrant generations.

Disaggregating AAPI economic data does much to correct misconceptions about the “model minority”. While headlines will proclaim the rise of AAPI wealth and media figures like Bill O’Reilly will attempt to contradict the concept of white privilege with “Asian privilege“, few outlets will state up front how the wealth data tends to overstate the success of the AAPI community.

The CAPACD research shows:

Most respondents turned to friends and family to ask for financial advice, with 56 percent not knowing where else to seek financial advice.Bangladeshi respondents (38 percent) particularly rely on friends and family.

23 percent did not know where or how to raise emergency funds if needed, with almost 62 percent of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander relying on friends and family.

Newer immigrants overall have fewer bank accounts, rely heavily on cash for daily transactions and have difficulties conducting financial transactions in English.

The study takes the varied findings of financial vulnerability and knowledge and recommends that the financial services industry:

Offer language appropriate educational resources

Design targeted, socially-oriented products that extend beyond standard nuclear familial households

Improve accessibility at brick-and-mortar locations and outreach via trusted community organizations and education in new technologies

Approaching AAPI groups with specified outreach allows financial services to look beyond sensationalized stories of Asian-American wealth.

When looking at the median household income data of Asian-Americans in one lump view, it looks as though the racial group is doing nearly as well, if not better, than white households. Nuance gets overlooked or buried when a headline-grabbing figure of $91,440 for Asian-American households in 2013 is presented in a report by the Center for Household Financial Stability.

However, according to the Center for American Progress:

Asian Indians and Filipinos skew the data by having the highest levels of household income, reflecting high levels of education and selective, high-skill immigration policy in the U.S. Hmong, Cambodian and Bangladeshi Americans have among the lowest household income levels for Asian-Americans, below the national average of $53,000.

Asian-American and Pacific Islander families tend to have larger households averaging 3.02 and 3.63 persons per household, respectively. Comparatively, the national average is 2.58 persons with 2.46 persons for white households.

AAPI populations tend to be concentrated in states and urban areas among those with the highest cost of living. Over half live in Hawaii, California, New Jersey and New York as compared to 19 percent of whites. AAPI under the poverty line also tend to be concentrated in specific metropolitan areas.

Pew Research Center alsofinds Filipino-American and Indian-American household incomes as standing out among other Asian-American communities.

It may seem surprising that Filipino-Americans appear so prominently on the median household income list as stereotypingtends to overlook the community, but it appears the community is evenmore heavily concentrated among three expensive metro areas (LA, SF, NY). They also tend to have more advanced English proficiency with two-thirds identifying with a strong proficiency, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The attitude that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are well-off in the aggregate can prevent financial institutions and policy makers from making informed decisions about how to develop the financial health of these very diverse communities. Approaching the economic needs of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders based on the unique requirements of its constituent parts can help dispel model minority stereotyping and provide a way to improve outcomes for both financial businesses and AAPI consumers.

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