Friday, June 22, 2012

Pew Research on Asian Americans in Flawed

From Julianne Hing of Colorlines:

It’s not every day that deep and rigorous research about Asian Americans is released to the public. So when the well-respected Pew Research Center released “The Rise of Asian Americans,” a comprehensive report on the community on Tuesday, it should have been reason enough to celebrate. Instead, the report, which hailed Asians as the fastest-growing and highest-achieving racial group in the country, drew widespread criticism from Asian American scholars, advocates and lawmakers who raised alarm about the report, and warned against taking it seriously at all. Poor research of an oft-overlooked community, it turns out, might do more damage than no research at all.

We are “deeply concerned about how findings from a recent study by the Pew Research Center have been used to portray Asian Americans,” the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, a network of civil rights advocacy groups said on Wednesday. The report’s authors, the AACAJ said, “paint a picture of Asian Americans as a model minority, having the highest income and educational attainment among racial groups. These portrayals are overly simplistic.”

The Pew report included both census data and social trend polling of the six largest Asian-American ethnicities—Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese. These communities make up 85 percent of the roughly 17 million Asian Americans. According to Pew, half of Asians in the U.S. graduated from college, compared with just 30 percent for the general population, and report a median annual household income of $66,000 when Americans as a whole make $49,000.

Pew’s results are filled with nuggets of information that cement the idea that Asians are exceptional in other ways. They report the greatest satisfaction with their lives, and are more invested in traditional markers of success. Pew found that Asian Americans place a higher value on having a high-paying profession and a successful marriage than other racial groups. They also care more than the general public about “being a good parent.” Asian Americans are just 6 percent of the U.S., but are actually the fastest growing racial group in the country.

Critics say the Pew report mixes some fact with too much mythology about what people imagine Asians to be. While a portrayal of Asian Americans as high-achieving, and adept at overcoming humble beginnings to reach great financial and educational success seems flattering, many Asian Americans say this frame is not only factually inaccurate, it’s damaging to the community.

The Real Story Behind The Numbers

“Our community is one of stark contrasts, with significant disparities within and between various subgroups. The ‘Asian Pacific American’ umbrella includes over 45 distinct ethnicities speaking over 100 language dialects, and many of the groups that were excluded from this report are also the ones with the greatest needs,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

More than a third of all Hmong, Cambodian and Laotian Americans over the age of 25 don’t have a high school degree, for instance. While some Asians may report incomes at or higher than whites, Cambodian and Laotian Americans report poverty rates as high as, and higher than, the poverty rate of African Americans, according to the 2010 census. Even among those that Pew included in its study, like Chinese and Vietnamese Americans, these groups report a below average attainment of high school diplomas, said Dan Ichinose, director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center’s Demographic Research Project. The more complex and far less exciting explanation for Asian Americans’ relatively high rates of education has more to do with immigration policy, which has driven selectivity about who gets to come to the U.S. and who doesn’t, said Ichinose. But a focus only on those in the upper echelons of the community renders everyone else invisible.

At the start of the recession, Asian Americans may have been more well-situated to ride out the worst of it, but as the recession has stretched on, Asian Americans have actually suffered the worst from long-term unemployment, the Economic Policy Institute found earlier this year. And 2.3 million Asian Americans are uninsured, said Deepa Iyer, head of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. Read more....

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