Center for American Progress

The Incomplete Story of the Asian American Community

The Incomplete Story of the Asian American Community

Policymakers need to understand the complexity and diversity within the Asian American community when considering how to address economic inequality.

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Income inequality has become one of our greatest obstacles to economic mobility, as U.S. residents today face unequal opportunities and access to the American Dream. Some people have it better than others: Whites earn higher incomes and greater access to education and health care than communities of color. But there are large variations even between different communities of color, with African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans—as well as multiracial Americans and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI—all facing different challenges. There are further differences within these individual populations, particularly among AAPIs. As policymakers craft interventions to best address inequality, it is vital that their data are robust and their analysis is performed thoughtfully. This will ensure not only that policy solutions efficiently address the problem but also that they successfully acknowledge the diversity within different communities.

While not the only criterion, efficiency is very important to the design of public policy. More efficient public policy means that more government services and social programs can help Americans who need assistance. For programs to be efficient, however, their target audiences must be clearly identified; this is not always a simple task. In the United States, identifying target audiences to determine the distribution of public services often requires a working definition of race and ethnicity, as communities of color frequently struggle with economic disadvantages that require these services. But population data that are broken down by race and ethnicity often only exist at highly aggregated levels, meaning that groups of people with very different cultural, social, and historical backgrounds end up being lumped into one larger group. For example, people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian descent— among many others—make up the Asian American population, even though their socioeconomic experiences vary widely. Therefore, programs and services targeted toward only the broader Asian American population may struggle to meet the specific needs of some subpopulations.

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