Asian and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Child Poverty and Economic Well-Being

Posted August 23, 2023
Two young Asian girls in head coverings and a young Asian boy laugh as they study a windmill.

Many indi­ca­tors of socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus by race and eth­nic­i­ty lump all Asian Amer­i­can (AA) and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander (NHPI) chil­dren togeth­er and, as a result of aver­ag­ing out dif­fer­ences, they often sug­gest that these kids are doing bet­ter than oth­ers. In real­i­ty, the diverse AA and NHPI child pop­u­la­tions expe­ri­ence vast­ly dif­fer­ent socioe­co­nom­ic out­comes.

To shed light on these dif­fer­ences, the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter com­mis­sioned a spe­cial analy­sis of the lat­est data on child pover­ty and parental edu­ca­tion lev­els dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tion. These data are avail­able as five-year esti­mates for 20172021 from the Cen­sus Bureau’s Amer­i­can Com­mu­ni­ty Sur­vey.

Asian Amer­i­can Chil­dren in Poverty

As expect­ed, when pover­ty data are bro­ken out by spe­cif­ic pop­u­la­tion, the fig­ures exposed wide dis­par­i­ties across groups. First, the dif­fer­ence between AA and NHPI chil­dren is stark: The NHPI child pover­ty rate is 22% — more than dou­ble the 10% rate for AA children.

Look­ing across AA pop­u­la­tions, even wider dis­par­i­ties emerged. Near­ly 1 in 3 (31%) Burmese Amer­i­can chil­dren and 1 in 4 (24%) Mon­go­lian Amer­i­can chil­dren were liv­ing in pover­ty in 20172021, com­pared with 5% of Fil­ipino Amer­i­can, Indi­an Amer­i­can and Tai­wanese Amer­i­can kids. Pover­ty rates were also high among Thai Amer­i­can, Malaysian Amer­i­can, Bangladeshi Amer­i­can, Hmong Amer­i­can and Cam­bo­di­an Amer­i­can chil­dren, with at least 1 in 5 kids in each group liv­ing below the pover­ty level.

Table One: Asian Amer­i­can Chil­dren Under 18 in Pover­ty, Dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by Asian Sub­groups (20172021)

Pop­u­la­tion

Num­ber

Per­cent

Burmese 20,50230.9%
Mon­go­lian 1,209 24.3%
Thai 5,887 22.8%
Bangladeshi 12,807 22.1%
Hmong 23,110 20.7%
Cam­bo­di­an 10,463 19.9%
Laot­ian 5,883 18.2%
Pak­istani 25,274 17.6%
Nepalese 7,318 14.8%
Viet­namese 48,184 13.6%
Sri Lanken 1,158 12.1%
Bhutanese 856 12.1%
Chi­nese, except Taiwanese 82,860 11.6%
Indone­sian 1,273 10.1%
Kore­an 21,618 9.6%
Japan­ese 5,761 7.7%
Fil­ipino 23,154 5.2%
Indi­an 49,602 4.9%
Tai­wanese 1,530 4.9%

Total for Asian Amer­i­can Children

379,183

10.2%

Note: Esti­mates shown have 90% con­fi­dence inter­vals with mar­gins of error below five per­cent­age points. Source: PRB analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year data.

The data revealed vary­ing lev­els of pover­ty among NHPI groups, too. The low­est child pover­ty rate was 16% for Gua­man­ian or Chamor­ro kids, about half the rate (31%) for Mar­shallese children.

Table Two: Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Chil­dren Under 18 in Pover­ty, Dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by Sub­groups (20172021)

Pop­u­la­tion

Num­ber

Per­cent

Mar­shallese 4,126 31.2%
Samoan 6,485 26.5%
Native Hawai­ian 7,693 19.0%
Fijian 1,132 18.6%
Ton­gan 1,693 17.6%
Gua­man­ian or Chamorro 2,390 15.6%

Total for NHPI Children

33,400

22.4%

Note: Esti­mates shown have 90% con­fi­dence inter­vals with mar­gins of error below five per­cent­age points. Source: PRB analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year data.

All of these AA and NHPI kids are not, in fact, far­ing bet­ter than the nation­al aver­age or their peers in oth­er racial and eth­nic groups, as aggre­gat­ed data suggest.

Asian Amer­i­can Chil­dren and Eco­nom­ic Well-Being

Oth­er mea­sures dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tion show sub­stan­tial socioe­co­nom­ic dif­fer­ences among groups as well:

Chil­dren Who Live in a House­hold Where the House­hold Head Did Not Com­plete High School:

As illus­trat­ed below from the KIDS COUNT Data Center’s com­mis­sioned analy­sis, 61% of Burmese chil­dren lived in a fam­i­ly where the head of house­hold lacked a high school degree — almost sev­en times the aver­age for all AA chil­dren (9%). Among NHPI groups, 1 in 4 (26%) Mar­shallese chil­dren had a head of house­hold who did not com­plete high school, 2.5 times the NHPI aver­age (10%).

Table Three: Asian Amer­i­can Chil­dren Who Live With a Head of House­hold that Did Not Com­plete High School, Dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by Sub­groups (20172021)

Pop­u­la­tion

Per­cent of Children

Burmese 61.3%
Bhutanese 42.4%
Nepalese 22.6%
Cam­bo­di­an 20.4%
Laot­ian 18.7%
Viet­namese 18.6%
Hmong 16.7%
Thai 15.2%
Malaysian 15.1%
Chi­nese, except Taiwanese 11.5%
Bangladeshi 10.4%
Pak­istani 9.3%
Sri Lankan 6.5%
Indone­sian 3.6%
Fil­ipino 3.5%
Indi­an 3.4%
Mon­go­lian 2.5%
Japan­ese 2.1%
Kore­an 1.7%
Tai­wanese 1.5%

Total for Asian Amer­i­can Children

9.3%

Note: Esti­mates includ­ed have 90% con­fi­dence inter­vals with mar­gins of error below sev­en per­cent­age points. Source: PRB analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year data.

Table Four: Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Chil­dren Who Live With a Head of House­hold that Did Not Com­plete High School, Dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by Sub­pop­u­la­tion (20172021)

Pop­u­la­tion Per­cent of Children
Mar­shallese 26.0%
Fijian 10.4%
Gua­man­ian or Chamorro 6.4%
Samoan 6.3%
Native Hawai­ian 6.3%
Ton­gan 4.7%
Total for NHPI Children 10.1%
Note: Esti­mates includ­ed have 90% con­fi­dence inter­vals with mar­gins of error below five per­cent­age points. Source: PRB analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year data.

Chil­dren in Pover­ty Whose Par­ents Did Not Com­plete High School:

One in 3 (34%) Asian chil­dren whose par­ents did not fin­ish high school live in pover­ty accord­ing to a 2021 report from the Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics. Among Asian-alone pop­u­la­tions with data, the share of these chil­dren in pover­ty whose par­ents did not com­plete high school was high­est for:

  • Thai (57%);
  • Hmong (52%);
  • Burmese (47%);
  • Pak­istani (43%);
  • Nepalese (37%); and
  • Cam­bo­di­an (36%) children.

This fig­ure was low­est for: 

  • Viet­namese (27%)
  • Chi­nese (27%); and
  • Indi­an (26%) children.

Among Pacif­ic Islander kids whose par­ents did not fin­ish high school, an alarm­ing two-thirds (66%) were liv­ing in pover­ty (not dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by population).

Unsta­ble Housing

The Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion’s 2021 Youth Risk Behav­ior Sur­vey found that NHPI high school stu­dents were more like­ly than stu­dents of oth­er racial and eth­nic back­grounds to have unsta­ble hous­ing. This is defined as not hav­ing a usu­al place to sleep or sleep­ing in some­one else’s home, in a shel­ter or emer­gency hous­ing, in a motel, in a car or anoth­er pub­lic place dur­ing the past month. While these data are not dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by spe­cif­ic pop­u­la­tion, they high­light con­cern­ing hous­ing needs for NHPI fam­i­lies. The share of U.S. high school­ers with unsta­ble hous­ing was: 

  • Total: 3%;
  • Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islanders: 10%; and
  • Asian-alone: 1%.

These exam­ples rein­force the need to dis­ag­gre­gate data by pop­u­la­tion — espe­cial­ly indi­ca­tors by child or youth pop­u­la­tion — as they reveal the dis­parate con­di­tions of chil­dren and fam­i­lies among Asian-alone and NHPI groups. By con­trast, aggre­gat­ed data for Asian and Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren” treats this incred­i­bly het­ero­ge­neous group as a sin­gu­lar block and masks dis­par­i­ties among these pop­u­la­tions. The data pre­sent­ed here clear­ly show that cer­tain groups are fac­ing greater socioe­co­nom­ic needs, includ­ing NHPI fam­i­lies and, specif­i­cal­ly, Mar­shallese, and Burmese, Mon­go­lian and Bhutanese fam­i­lies. Lead­ers and ser­vice providers can use these data to inform poli­cies and pro­grams, strength­en­ing out­reach to pop­u­la­tions with the great­est needs and ensur­ing that fam­i­lies receive ade­quate safe­ty net sup­port and oth­er services.

A Note About Language

We use the term Asian Amer­i­cans” in this post to refer to both Asian immi­grants and U.S. cit­i­zens of Asian descent, as the term reflects the vast major­i­ty of this pop­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly among children.

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