Asians’ Prosperity Masks The Poverty in the Less Fortunate Among Them

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The recent US Census Bureau’s study shows a disturbing feature of poverty among Asians that does not typically draw our attention.

The Bureau defines $22,000 annual household income as the threshold for poverty. On this basis, despite their high median family income, Asians also have relatively high percentage of their population living below the poverty threshold. Here are the poverty statistics:

Asians: 11.8%; Whites: 8.6%; Blacks and Hispanics each around 23%. A disturbing trend is that the percentage of people in poverty in all demographic groups has increased between 2002 and 2008, the increase being sharpest among Asians.

Therefore, just because we don’t see our poor cousins in social desi gatherings, let us not assume that we don’t have too many poor among us. One in nine or ten among the Indian-Americans lives in poverty in the US. One needs to analyze this census data and understand the whys.

But the material success of Indians in the US is also due to their skewed demography. An overwhelming majority of Indians are cherry-picked by US for immigration for their education and skills that are in shortage here, which, these immigrants acquired through their access to resources (wealth, connection, influence, their mostly middle class background or better) and the highly subsidized education in India.

With the center of gravity of the global economy shifting towards Asia, Asian populations in the US have come under the media glare. How these relatively new immigrants have succeeded in the US despite their distinctly non-Caucasian looks, languages, foods, faiths, and ethos has been the topic in stories in Business Week, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Look at these 2008 numbers from US Census Bureau on the median annual household incomes:

Asians: $66,000; Non-Hispanic Whites: $56,000; Blacks and Hispanics each have median incomes around $35,000; Entire US: $50,000.

Asians’ — including Indians’— high incomes and net worth, the desirable ZIP codes of their homes, and their Spelling Bee performances are commented upon endlessly. One common theme in these stories is Asians’ strong family identity and honor, respect for elders, thrift, and stress on education, all contributing to their material success.

Understandably, Indians, feel pretty glib about this favorable media glare, even though they subliminally would also like to attribute their success to their supposedly better genes and DNAs. So, among Indians, the working axiom is: If you are a desi, you ought to be well educated with a high-paying job; you ought to live in a desirable ZIP code. If you don’t, then something is wrong with you. ♦

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