Study Finds High Poverty, Arrest Rates Among Some Asian American Males

Widening the Lens

Sub-groups of Asian Americans are falling behind in life as a result of “deepening economic inequality, racism, failing public education systems, increasingly punitive and intolerant criminal justice laws, and insufficient culturally competent health services and prevention.”

These were the findings of “Widening the Lens on Boys and Men of Color,” a new report from Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP). The community-based study looked at Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) males through focus group discussions and disaggregated data to broaden the understanding of Asian Americans beyond the “model minority” myth.

Source: AAPIP
Source: AAPIP

The figures and stories uncovered in the report may come as a surprise to many. For instance, youth poverty rates among Hmongs and Cambodians came in at 42% and 31%, respectively–far higher than youth poverty among other minority groups, such as African Americans at 27% or Latinos at 26%. Among South Asian groups, 44% of Bangladeshis and 31% of Pakistanis are considered low-income.

Very often, the report found, the poverty that AAPI/AMEMSA youth face is accompanied by a difficult home situation, difficulty in school, or both. In particular, young men from Southeast and Central Asian refugee communities are at a greater risk for post-traumatic stress syndrome, even when they themselves did not directly experience wartime traumas. The experience of parents or older family members can carry over into the home environment, creating cyclical tensions that are difficult to break.

Meanwhile, undocumented youths part of the study explained that they often felt like they were living in a climate of fear and silence because of external pressure not to speak about their status and shame internalized by their families. Similarly, feeling shame over one’s identity was often experienced by LQBTQ youth as well. LGBTQ AAPI youth are the least likely to tell their parents about their sexual orientation, compared to other racial groups, and a patriarchal understanding of masculinity in many AAPI and AMEMSA cultures often complicates the situation.

The school environment does not provide much reprieve for low-income AAPI and AMEMSA boys either. 54% of Asian Americans reported being bullied in school, far exceeding the bullied rates among their white, black, and Latino peers. Many AAPI and AMEMSA boys admitted that they found it difficult to engage in school when they viewed the curriculum as irrelevant to their lives, or even racist. Additionally, language barriers continue to be an issue. One in ten English Language Learner students is AAPI (with Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Hmong, and Korean students rounding out the top five among Asians), but schools often offer little culturally competent support for these students.

One of the more alarming revelations of the report is the high rates of arrests and incarceration among AAPI subgroups. A few figures can highlight this: In 2006, Samoans had the highest arrest rate of any racial ethnic group in Oakland. In San Francisco County, Samoans and Vietnamese had the highest youth arrest rates, and Chinese had a large number of arrests as well. Between 1998 and 2006, Laotian youth had the overall greatest increase in arrests rate, eventually accounting for half of the AAPI arrests in Oakland, but only 22% of the AAPI population. Racial profiling also proved to be an issue for Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and AMESA youth.

With so many issues affecting AAPI/AMEMSA males and so little attention paid to these issues until recently, targeting funding now can make substantial differences in improving AAPI/AMEMSA youths’ lives. AAPIP has recommendations for each of the narrower issues discussed in their report, but their three overall recommendations come down to the following:

  • Ensure that culturally competent AAPI and AMEMSA organizations and programs are included in efforts to improve the lives of boys and men of color.

  • Support subgroup research and disaggregation of major data sets

  • Help build the civic engagement capacity of AAPI and AMEMSA organizations.

To read the report in detail, click here.

About the Author

DSC_7053 final_smallAnh is the communications and development coordinator at Vietnam Health, Education & Literature Projects (VNHELP), a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Vietnam’s poor.  Prior to her current position, Anh worked with Give2Asia in the business development department to research and develop material for Vietnamese American and corporate philanthropy. She also served as managing for Vietnam Talking Points (part of OneVietnam Network), where she wrote about Asian American identity and culture.

5 responses to “Study Finds High Poverty, Arrest Rates Among Some Asian American Males”

  1. Amina Yamusah says:

    This articles highlights the danger of conversations that exclusively recognize black and white issues in America. Don’t get me wrong- as an African American woman, I believe that it is extremely important to discuss the ways that black communities have been oppressed in a country founded heavily on ideas of white supremacy. However, this article reminded me that we can ALL benefit from expanding the scope of our dialogues about race, poverty& mass incarceration and that we should support ALL ethnic communities that are marginalized socially and economically.

    -proud black woman & global citizen

  2. Jenny Nguyen says:

    Thank you for this article! There needs to be more research to help dispel the model minority myth. It’s so harmful to asian americans to be put on a pedestal. Makes it harder on us when we fail due to structural issues/barriers.

  3. Timid City Government Slow to Address Inequity - LiberalVoiceLiberalVoice — Your source for everything about liberals and progressives! — News and tweets about everything liberals and progressives says:

    […] 2006, Samoans had the highest arrest rate of any racial-ethnic group in Oakland and Laotians in Oakland suffer from disproportionately high […]

  4. Bill says:

    Separate category for Japanese, Korean and Taiwan due to low crime of Japanese and Korean and Taiwan youth and adults.

    Filipinos classified as Pacific Islander along with indonesia and Malaysia.


  5. California Turns Down Opportunity to Receive Federal Money to Disaggregate AAPI Data | Reappropriate says:

    […] ~85-90% of Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree. Instead, Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to live in poverty, and to fall vict…. Those numbers are staggering, but few know about these struggling Americans because we […]


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