Big Income Divide Among Asian Pacific Islanders

Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 4

The Asian Pacific Islander community is at the extremes: Some ethnic groups have higher than the average statewide levels of education and income, yet others lag far behind in poverty, according to a new study to be released today.

The report, by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, is based on U.S. census data on race and ethnicity, housing, health, poverty, education and other important indicators of 20 ethnic groups and was undertaken to help guide development of social services and policy for diverse needs.

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By 2025, the state’s Asian American and Pacific Islander population is expected to more than double, from 4 million to 9 million, the report says. Chinese and Filipinos are the two largest groups in the state, making up more than half of the Asian Americans. In the Bay Area, Asians already are the largest minority group, accounting for more than a fifth of the population.

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There are vast differences even within an ethnic group. For example, South Asians are the fastest growing Asian ethnic group in the Bay Area, doubling from 1990 to 2000.

They are one-tenth of the population in Sutter County, many of them descendents of Punjabi farmers who immigrated generations ago. In Santa Clara County, many of the South Asians—who make up 4 percent of the population—arrived in the tech boom of the late 1990s.

U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia helped to create millions of refugees. This chaotic legacy continues in the lives of Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians and Vietnamese now in California. The groups have among the highest rates of welfare dependence in the state, the report says.

With agrarian backgrounds, little or no education or ability to speak English, these refugees are among the poorest in the Bay Area. More than a third of Cambodians and Hmong receive public assistance and live below the federal poverty line. A majority of Hmong, Laotians and Cambodians have not graduated from high school.

At the other end of the spectrum, some Asian groups have high rates of college graduation. A majority of Pakistanis, Koreans, Japanese and Asian Indians have at least a bachelor’s degree.

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