Wealth Inequality in the AAPI community
Written by Avani Singireddy and edited by Humyra Karim
As the current world seems to spiral into a downward pit of despair, one constant remains: the ever-widening wealth gap. Regardless of status, gender, or income, the damaging effects of wealth inequality have been felt and experienced by all. Given the dire effects of the wealth gap, combined with systematic racial inequality, it is unsurprising to see that people of color suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of wealth inequality. What is surprising however, is the fact that the AAPI community, what some consider a relatively homogenous race, as of 2016 suffers from the greatest income inequality in comparison to other races.
This is probably quite surprising given the popularly held belief that all Asians are successful, and economically advantaged; however the facts clearly tell a different story.
Wealth inequality has been a growing issue since the 1970s but recently its effects have become more pronounced. The pandemic is partly to blame but the root cause lies in the inherently flawed system. A system designed to favor few at the expense of the many. How else can the top 0.1% owning more wealth than the bottom 90% of the United State’s population, be explained in the midst of overall wealth in the United States exponentially increasing? Quality of life for the average American continues to remain stagnant despite the fact that the economy has more than tripled in size over the past three decades. If not to the American worker, where does this wealth go one might ask? It goes up. Up the ladder of social mobility to the corporate elitists, only for those profits to never be seen by those in the lower rungs whose (labour and time) brought said wealth to fruition in the first place. For too long the government has enabled the disconnect between Main Street and Wall Street through adopting flawed economic policies like trickle-down economics. But what gets lost in all the legislative chaos is that trickle-down is really a government facilitated effort for trickle up.
Delving further into the problem of wealth inequality, one can see that the disparity in wealth remains the highest in Asian American community. Asian Americans have the highest median income in comparison to other racial groups in America yet this benefit, by no means, is not shared by all.
On one end of the spectrum, Burmese Americans make a median income of $36,000 whereas Indian Americans have the highest median income averaging $100,000 per household.
Despite this difference, we only hear about the latter statistic normally in regards to perpetuating the model minority myth which undermines all notions of Asian success through normalizing it. In addition to enormous differences in median income, many Asian Americans also suffer from a higher rate of poverty than their white counterparts, thus debunking the stigma surrounding Asian American wealth. The variation in quality of life is even more striking when comparing poverty levels among various AAPI ethnicities. Hmong Americans having an average poverty rate 3x that of Filipino Americans. This difference in poverty highlights the untold story of the forgotten ethnic groups within the AAPI community.
Even in the media, the black and white portrayal of the AAPI community fails to acknowledge the wide array of ethnic groups within the label “AAPI”.
The Asians who are not mentioned in the model minority myth are, nonetheless, the ones hurt most by it. Some attribute this disparity in the Asian American community to levels of income variation in immigrants who arrived by skills-based visas and those who did not. Critics claim that Asians who typically arrive on H1B1 immigration visas tend to have better English proficiency and higher education levels while those of refugee status typically do not. These skills then enable the “higher skilled” Asians to achieve more financial success. Regardless of country of origin, the reason for the economic divide between different ethnicities in the AAPI community is the same as the reason for any other race: systematic forces. Systematic forces have continued to prey upon the lower classes all for the benefit of the higher classes in the form of unscrupulous tax loopholes and legislation perpetuating intergenerational wealth. However, the root cause is a mixture of flawed policy making combined with institutional racism. The flux of Asian immigration, for too long, have been cherry picked by our officials to further contribute to the model minority myth. Regardless of the reasons for this grave economic divide in the Asian American community, the model minority myth continues to cloud the truth and replace it with unrealistic expectations which cause harm to all and benefit none.
The surge in Asian immigration, characterized by a wider variety of Asian ethnicities migrating to America, has enriched the US with diversity but has also created a false narrative about what it means to be Asian-American today.
Due to the wide varying levels of income and education within the AAPI community, the claim that the AAPI community is uniform and homogeneous in socioeconomic status is an inaccurate claim founded in racist perpetuations. In a society where money is speech, millions are being stripped of their voice and many more continue to go unnoticed.
The problem of wealth inequality has been silently plaguing the Asian American community and it is time to sound the alarms.
Cover Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash
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