Many Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders in California Are Working Poor

Many Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders in California Are Working Poor

Nearly a quarter of working Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California are struggling with poverty, a report from PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and AAPI Data finds.

Based on a survey of nearly twenty-seven hundred Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) residents of California, the report, The Working Lives and Struggles of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California (HTML or 60 pages, PDF), found that while 60 percent of respondents were either employed full- or part-time or were unemployed at the moment but seeking employment, 23 percent were working but reported household income of no more than 250 percent of the U.S. Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure. Hmong (44 percent) and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (36 percent) had the highest share of working poor among their respective populations, followed by Cambodians (26 percent), Vietnamese (26 percent), and Chinese (23 percent).

Funded by the James Irvine Foundation, the report also found that AAPI workers who were struggling with poverty were more likely than non-struggling workers to have been required to work overtime without being paid (25 percent vs. 16 percent), to be paid less than the minimum wage (20 percent vs. 5 percent), or to have had their wages withheld by their employer (14 percent  vs. 5 percent).

According to the report, AAPI workers who were struggling with poverty also were more likely to participate in the gig economy than workers who were not  (24 percent vs. 15 percent); Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (30 percent) were more than twice as likely as AAPI Californians overall to participate in the gig economy; and AAPI residents of the San Joaquin Valley (36 percent) — where half of AAPI residents qualify as working poor — were more likely to do so than in any other region.

In addition, the survey found that 82 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, 76 percent of Hmong, 71 percent of Cambodians, and 70 percent of Vietnamese reported experiencing at least one economic hardship such as being unable to pay a monthly bill or having to use food stamps.

"All AAPI groups have significant minorities of workers within their population who are struggling, including Chinese, Filipino, and Indian Americans," said AAPI Data founding director Karthick Ramakrishnan. "Despite the dominant images of Silicon Valley riches and well-to-do health professionals, these relatively more economically stable AAPI groups nonetheless make up a majority of the millions of struggling AAPI Californian workers."