WASHINGTON, D.C. July 13, 2018 – Income inequality has increased steadily in the U.S. since the 1970s, but it is rising fastest among Asians. As a result, Asians are now the most economically divided U.S. racial and ethnic group, displacing blacks, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
Asians are the highest-earning racial and ethnic group in the U.S., on average. However, their overall prosperity conceals a wide and rapidly growing economic divide between higher- and lower-income Asians. In 2016, the latest year for which data are available, Asians near the top of their income distribution (the 90th percentile) had incomes 10.7 times greater than those of Asians near the bottom of their income distribution (the 10th percentile). The ratio of these two incomes – the 90/10 ratio – among Asians was notably wider than among blacks (9.8), whites (7.8) and Hispanics (7.8).
This pattern of inequality across groups represents a significant shift from the past. In 1970, the 90/10 ratio among Asians was 6.1, about as low as among whites (6.3). But the gap in income among Asians increased 77% from 1970 to 2016, a far greater increase than among whites (24%), Hispanics (15%) or blacks (7%). This marked difference in the growth in inequality reflects the fact that Asians near the top experienced more growth in income from 1970 to 2016 than any other group while Asians near the bottom experienced the least growth.
Both immigration and education levels play a role in inequality among Asians. >From 1970 to 2016, a diverse group of immigrants accounted for 81% of the growth in the Asian adult population, leading to wide variations in education levels and economic outcomes among U.S. Asians. For example, in 2015, the share with at least a bachelor’s degree, among adults ages 25 and older, ranged from 9% among Bhutanese to 72% among Indians, while poverty rates were as high as 35% among Burmese and 33% among Bhutanese.
Other findings from the report include:
•The income gap between Americans overall at the top and the bottom of the income distribution widened 27% from 1970 to 2016. Among all Americans, those near the top of the income ladder (the 90th percentile) had 8.7 times as much income as those near the bottom (the 10th percentile) in 2016, $109,578 compared with $12,523. In 1970, Americans near the top had 6.9 times as much income as those near the bottom, $63,512 compared with $9,212.
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•Income gaps across racial and ethnic groups persist and, in some cases, are wider today than in 1970. The large gaps between the incomes of blacks and whites narrowed modestly from 1970 to 2016. Meanwhile, Hispanics fell further behind whites at all income levels. Higher-income Asians moved further out in front of higher-income whites, but lower-income Asians did not keep pace.
• Asians, as a whole, are the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the U.S., but there is wide diversity among Asians. In 2016, the median annual income for Asian adults was $51,288, compared with $47,958 for whites, $31,082 for blacks and $30,400 for Hispanics. Asians also had a higher standard of living than other groups at the top of the income distribution, earning 13% more than whites at the top of the income ladder and leading Hispanics and blacks by wider margins. But the earnings of lower-income Asians fell short of the earnings of lower-income whites by 17%.