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Some Good News on Asian-American Poverty in New York City

June 1, 2017

The latest data on poverty in New York City, released on May 16, contains good news about Asian-American poverty. Asian-American New Yorkers had the sharpest decline in poverty rate of any of the racial/ethnic groups whose poverty the City measures. This is particularly welcome news because for years Asian-Americans had the highest rate of any of the groups for which the City calculates a poverty rate (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Asian).

See the poverty rates by racial/ethnic groups over time (pg. 33)

This progress by Asian-American New Yorkers comes at a time when poverty indicators for the whole City have been headed in the right direction. The latest poverty data shows that the number of New Yorkers living in near-poverty, or below 150 percent of the poverty threshold, fell 0.9 percentage points from 2014-15, and the number in poverty fell 0.8 percentage points in the two-year period from 2013-15. (These figures are all based on the NYCgov poverty measure, the New York City-specific metric the City uses.)

Asian-American New Yorkers, like the City as a whole, had a challenging few years during the recovery from the Great Recession. In 2010, 25.9 percent of Asian-American residents were living in poverty. That percentage rose to 28 percent in 2012, and over the next two years the rate declined, but not by statistically significant amounts. In the latest data, from 2015, the decline in Asian-American poverty was statistically significant, falling to 23.4 percent. Asian-Americans moved below Hispanics, who now have the highest poverty rate in the City.

Even with the recent declines, the percentage of Asian-American living below the poverty line remains above the citywide average of 19.9. Asian-Americans also have the highest poverty rate in the City among full-time, year-round workers, 15.9 percent, compared to 13.3 percent for all full-time, year-round workers in the City.

There are a lot of variables at work in the poverty rates of Asian-American New Yorkers, as there are among all groups. There is, for example, a large gap between the poverty rate of Asian-Americans who are not citizens (30.5 percent) and those who are citizens (19.5 percent) – so the percentage of immigrants in the population at any time can affect the poverty rate.

There are also differences within the City’s highly diverse Asian-American community based on country of origin, in some cases reflecting their average length of time in the United States. A study of New York’s Bangladeshi community, many of whose members are recent immigrants, found that nearly one-third lived in poverty. Overall, however, Asian-American poverty in the City has been moving in the right direction. In the five-year period from 2010 to 2015, the poverty rate for Asian-American New Yorkers fell more than three times the rate of the City as a whole.