Asian-American Poverty Higher than You Think, And Growing

The US Census recently released American Community Survey (ACS) numbers for 2013. My narrow, first and foremost task with these new numbers is to look at poverty numbers. The growth in numbers of people in poverty is slowing—possibly a sign that the economic recovery is finally trickling (albeit a tiny trickle) down to poor people. Similarly, the poverty population in most communities of color reduced slightly. However, for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, poverty is still growing, though the growth has slowed. The latest numbers show that the number of poor AAPIs has exceeded 2.1 million. And, as I wrote about last year after the release of the 2012 numbers, in the wake of the recession AAPIs continue to be the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in poverty, and the economic recovery continues to miss AAPIs.
US Department of Labor Report and AAPI Long-Term Unemployment

The US Department of Labor recently released a report on the economic status of AAPIs. One tidbit I want to pull from the report is that AAPI long-term unemployment continues to be markedly high, higher than any other racial/ethnic group except African Americans. This is another data point filling out the narrative  of a “Tale of Two Cities” for AAPIs. On one hand, for AAPIs who do well (like highly educated professionals), it is almost always the best of times. But for AAPIs who are economically marginalized, they are on the outs. The success of one doesn’t touch the suffering of the other. This is why, especially for AAPIs, a community’s economic need shouldn’t be defined by aggregate numbers like median household income.

AAPIs, SPM, and the “Model Minority” Myth

Another notable thing/good practice from the DOL Report is the authors’ use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM is an adjusted poverty calculation that takes more economic factors into account, including cost of living and a broader array of income/subsidies. For AAPIs, the adjustments around housing costs are particularly important. In our poverty report released last year, we found that poor AAPIs, more so than the poor of any other racial/ethnic group, are concentrated in the regions/markets with the highest housing costs. This translates into a SPM poverty rate of 16.6 percent for AAPIs, compared to a 12.1 percent poverty rate by traditional measures. Per the table below (source: additional analysis to create AAPI category is mine), this is the largest difference between the official poverty measure and the SPM for any racial/ethnic category.

SPM Among Racial Groups


Official Poverty


Supplemental Poverty



All People








Non-Hispanic White












By SPM, a more accurate measure of poverty, AAPIs are revealed to have a higher degree of economic need than the general population. More advanced stats further debunk the model minority myth.

AAPIs Have Highest Poverty Rate in NYC

New York City (Christine D’Onofrio, in particular) does poverty data analysis better and more comprehensively than any other big city that I know and better than a lot of academics/academic institutions and think tanks/nonprofits. Earlier this year they released their annual poverty report. Using SPM, the report shows (among lots of other data) that AAPIs have the highest poverty rate of any racial/ethnic category in NYC. This is a surprising finding for the United States’s biggest city. It makes me wonder what similar SPM-based analyses in other big cities/metro regions with high AAPI poverty would reveal.

Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz CC BY

Josh Ishimatsu is deputy director of capacity building and research for National CAPACD.


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