Asian American seniors are often left out of the national conversation on poverty

Victoria Tran, May 31, 2017

Despite being the fastest-growing population in the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are often overlooked or reported as a monolith in research on racial and ethnic disparities. Representation matters—and that’s especially true in policy research, where “invisibility is an unnatural disaster” (Mitsuye Yamada). Aggregate statistics obscure communities’ contributions and needs, so data disaggregated by ethnic origin are needed to change stereotypical narratives around AAPIs in every area of policy research.

Statistics on Asian Americans often present a population with high education levels, earning potential, and net worth, painting a picture of a young, educated, middle class. These numbers obscure a growing population of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander seniors, many of whom lack the financial resources of their younger counterparts. As a growing demographic with a rising poverty rate, Asian American seniors are being left behind in the narrative of a financially strong Asian American community.  

The Asian American elderly population is a fast-growing demographic. In 2014, the older Asian population was 1.9 million, and it is projected to grow to 8.5 million by 2060. Estimates project the older Asian population to make up 9 percent of the older population by 2060, compared with 4 percent in 2014. 

The elderly Asian population is faring worse economically compared with the general older American population. The chart below shows poverty rates for seniors ages 65 and older in 2015, when the poverty rate for Asians ages 65 and older was 12.7 percent, and the rate for all older Americans was 9 percent.  

Poverty rates range significantly among different Asian subgroups. For example, in 2015, 23.3 percent of Cambodian American seniors 65 and older lived below the federal poverty level compared with 7.1 percent of Filipino seniors. Vietnamese, Hmong, and Indonesian Americans 65 and older have a poverty rate of 17.9 percent. Aggregated data often obscure higher poverty rates for elderly people who immigrated more recently and lack savings and a social safety net, compared with Asian Americans whose ancestors immigrated in the late 1800s.  

Asian American Senior Poverty Rate Data
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