Inequality is ubiquitous. It pervades all populations — encompassing all ages, all genders, all races and ethnicities. But some groups in the United States face the symptoms of inequality — such as poverty or lack of health insurance — at higher rates than others. What may come as a surprise to some is that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders rank among those who are faring poorly.
Data on Asian-American and Pacific Islander subpopulations are often clumped together into a single group by government agencies and nonprofit groups. Policymakers ultimately use that same data to identify and theoretically combat inequality. This process masks the high level of variation — that is to say, some important socioeconomic differences — within the country's fast-growing Asian-American population.
The end result: We lack a clear picture of the AAPI population. Real and important differences in the lives, experiences, and policy needs of many Asian-Americans are not only obscured but often go utterly unrecognized.
Federal government statistics use a definition of "Asian" that groups together immigrants from Asia and people of Asian descent born in the United States who have Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Thai, Hmong, Pakistani, and many other backgrounds. There are reasons for this. Accurate data can be difficult to collect due to small sample sizes of Asian-American subpopulations and language barriers. Variations in the way Asian-Americans and individuals with Asian-American heritage self-identify also do not make more detailed data easy to gather or distribute. Still, simplicity in data-gathering and distribution can also generate problems.