AAC Journal – Vol. 1, Issue 2: Income Inequality, Poverty Rates, and Dispelling the Model Minority Myth

Income Inequality, Poverty Rates, and Dispelling the Model Minority Myth

By Johanna Arguello-Garcia

Did you know that in New York City, one in every four Asians lives under the poverty line, fifty percent of Asians have limited English capabilities and seventy percent of Asians are immigrants? (Scientific American) One of the reasons why these facts aren’t highly publicized and known by the general public is because of the Model Minority Myth. This Model Minority Myth is based on the stereotype that all Asian Americans are wealthy, highly educated, and gifted academically and therefore don’t need any additional assistance. As the Learning for Justice center puts it, it is a belief that Asian Americans have “achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.”

One big problem with this myth is that it creates the sense that everyone in the Asian American community is the same. The reality is that there is vast diversity within the Asian American community. Besides the vast diversity in the country of origin and ethnicity, there is also a wide diversity of languages, life experiences, educational levels, and income levels within the community that becomes shadowed when the model minority myth spreads. For example, the Hmong and Bangladeshi ethnic groups have some of the lowest poverty rates in the U.S. (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=185534666)

Stereotyping all Asian Americans as highly educated and earning high incomes shadows the portion of members in the community who do not have that lifestyle. This belief is harmful because it creates the sense that this is a minority group that doesn’t need help because they are already very well off and perform well academically. One of the strong facts against the myth is the reality of the large income inequality within the AAPI community. In 2018, the Pew Research Center showed that Asians are the most economically divided group in the U.S. Although, it is true that Asian Americans are ranked as earning the highest amount of income on average as a whole, it is not a universal experience within the community.
When income inequality grows, the average income measures hide the struggles and experiences of the lower-income individuals in the measures. As Pew Research notes, “people at the lower rungs of the income ladder may experience diminished economic opportunity and mobility, and have less political influence.” Another report by Scientific American further exposes the dangers of believing that all Asian Americans are doing well under the Model Minority Myth. As Yee mentions in this article, “many low-income Asian Americans are grossly overlooked.” She notes that those with limited English struggle even more because of the language barrier when assessing resources.

This language and culture barrier is particularly significant when considering speaking out against injustices against the AAPI community for a fear of retaliation for “complaining.” As Rosalin Chou, co-author of The Myth of the Model Minority puts it in an interview, a common theme in her research was “that many Asian-Americans were discouraged to talk about any problems they had that had to do with … racial discrimination.”

Clearly, it is of uttermost importance to bring awareness about this issue to deliver appropriate guidance to those at the lowest end of the income ladder in the AAPI community; many of whom are forgotten in statistical studies and news articles.

Here at the Cultural Society, our Asian American Connections (AAC) initiative is meant to help provide cultural, health and wellness, and professional resources for Asian Americans to adjust better to their lives in the U.S. Importantly, we also offer cultural workshops to empower and educate members about the diversity, culture, and issues affecting the Asian American community. If you are interested in being a member of this initiative, please register below https://csebri.org/membership/.

About The Author: Johanna was an administrative intern at AAC-CSEBRI in the summer of 2022. You can find her bio here