One of the most pernicious myths in American life is that Asian Americans are “model minority,” universally outpacing other racial and ethnic groups, including whites, in education and income. Some use such claims to imply – or even suggest explicitly – that other groups just need to work harder and have more “tiger moms” in order to catch up. That’s never been true, as we’ve noted before. Lots of social, practical and cultural factors come into play, and Asian Americans aren’t monolithic. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, nationalities and immigrant experiences, and the stark differences between these groups get lost when you lump Asians into one single statistical category.
More evidence of this just arrived via an issue brief from the Center on Policy Initiatives based on Census Bureau data from San Diego County. Overall, Asian/Pacific Islanders had a higher median household income than the overall population, and were slightly above non-Hispanic whites. But when CPI researchers drilled into the numbers they found that Taiwanese, Burmese, Cambodian and Thai households had considerably lower median incomes than the population at large, in some cases well below Latino and African American households. Not surprisingly, these same groups had higher rates of economic hardship than African Americans.
We can’t address the problem of wealth and income inequality unless we’re willing to look at it in all its complexity and avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes.