Asians have highest incomes in US, but most inequality

Asians typically have the highest incomes in the nation.

But that statistic belies the fact that the group is also the most economically divided, and the gap is growing larger, a new report from the Pew Research Center found.

The highest-earning Asians in the United States make 10.7 times as much as the poorest Asians in 2016, according to Pew, which compared those in the top 10 percent of the income ladder versus those in the bottom 10 percent. Those at the top earn just over $133,500, while those at the bottom make just under $12,500.

Asians now surpass blacks as the racial and ethnic group with the highest level of income inequality.

The differential among Asians has widened considerably since 1970, when the highest-earning Asians made 6.1 times as much the lowest earning. Back then, they had the smallest income inequality spread of all race and ethnic groups.

Income inequality has been growing across the board in the United States in recent decades. The incomes of the nation’s highest earners have soared, while those of the middle class and the poor have crept up more slowly.

This is true among Asians, as well. The top 10 percent saw their incomes nearly double between 1970 and 2016, while the earnings of the bottom 10 percent notched up only 11 percent. In fact, this split was notably wider in the Asian community than among whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Much of the growing spread is rooted in the diversity of Asian immigration to the United States, said Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at Pew. Nearly 80 percent of Asian adults in America were born elsewhere, and Asians are the nation’s fastest-growing major racial and ethnic group.

Asian immigration soared starting in the mid-1960s, after Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act and after the end of Vietnam War. Many of these folks were low-skilled.

In 1990, Congress passed another immigration act that sought to increase the inflow of higher-skilled immigrants. The new law, coupled with the boom in the tech sector, attracted many highly educated Asians, including those from India and China. These folks have helped push Asians’ median household income to the highest of any group in the United States.

Also, this has resulted in wide variations of education and income levels among Asians in the United States. For instance, 72 percent of Indian adults have a bachelor’s degree, but only 9 percent of Bhutanese adults do. The median household income of Indians is $100,000, but it’s only $36,000 among the Burmese.

“It’s a very diverse community,” Kochhar said.