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Indian American community has lowest poverty rate among Asian Americans, says Pew study

BY VEENA RAO

Cover photo: File photo of a Sewa food drive. Image used for illustrative purposes only.

Atlanta, GA, April 2, 2024: At 6%, the Indian American community has the lowest poverty rate among Asian Americans, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Contrary to common perceptions, the study reveals that approximately 10% of Asian Americans live in poverty. Asian Americans also have the most income inequality of any major racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Burmese and Hmong Americans have notably higher poverty rates at 19% and 17%, respectively.

Asians are often characterized as a “model minority” and portrayed as educationally and financially successful when compared with other groups. Some participants shared how the assumption that all Asians are doing well hurt their ability to seek help.

“What I can assume is that outside of our community, especially at the government level, [including] state level and central federal level here, we are missing out or not eligible for benefits, said an immigrant man of Nepalese origin. “In their opinion, we are rich, no matter if we are working or not. [They may think] our stories may not be genuine. They may think we are making up a story [if we apply for benefits].”

A majority of Asian adults who live in poverty (61%) have turned to family or friends for help with bills, housing, food or employment. Around 49% also say they have sought help from local, state or federal governments. Smaller shares have sought help from religious institutions such as churches or temples (21%) or Asian community groups (13%).

However, not all Asians living with economic hardship have asked for or received help (19%). In the focus groups, participants shared why they or their families sometimes did not do so or felt hesitant. Fear of gossip and shame were mentioned multiple times.

The report also highlights the educational achievements of Asian Americans, with a third of those living in poverty holding a bachelor’s degree.

Immigration plays a significant role in shaping the socioeconomic landscape of Asian Americans. Nearly six-in-ten Asian Americans living in poverty are immigrants. Language proficiency emerges as a crucial factor, with a sizable portion of immigrants below the poverty line struggling with English proficiency.

Geographically, Indian Americans and other Asian Americans facing economic hardship are concentrated in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where over half a million reside in poverty collectively. Fresno, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh also register notable poverty rates among Asian Americans, including those of Indian descent.

Why Asian immigrants came to the U.S. is linked to whether they have received help from the government, according to the report.

For example, a third of all Asian immigrants, regardless of poverty status, who came to the U.S. due to conflict or persecution in their home country have received help with bills, housing, food or employment from governments (33%).

By comparison, smaller shares of Asian immigrants who came for educational opportunities (14%) or economic opportunities (16%) or who migrated to be with family (25%) say the same.

Roughly half of Asian Americans who live in poverty (47%) say the American dream is out of reach, but others say they have achieved it (15%) or are on their way to achieving it (36%). By comparison, Asians living above the poverty line are more optimistic about their chances of achieving the American dream:

For Asians living in poverty, the vast majority say having freedom of choice in how to live one’s life (91%), a good family life (91%), children having the best opportunities (91%) and retiring comfortably (90%) are important to their view of the American dream.

Homeownership is also seen as key: 81% of Asian adults living in poverty and 87% of those living above the poverty line say owning a home is important to their view of the American dream. However, Asian adults in poverty are much less likely than those above the poverty line to be homeowners (40% vs. 71%), according to Census Bureau data.

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