About one in four Asian adults in New York City lived in poverty in 2020 — a rate that is significantly higher than the citywide average, according to a report released today by Robin Hood, a local non-profit, in collaboration with Columbia University.
It’s the first time that the foundation has expanded its data collection on income and material hardship to include a sufficiently large sample of Asian New Yorkers, allowing researchers to analyze the economic well-being of what it calls the most understudied racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
The welfare of a subset of Asian New Yorkers - those who are 65 years or older, those with limited English proficiency, and those with a high school degree or less – is even more dismal, according to the report, The State of Poverty and Disadvantage in New York City. The rates of poverty for these Asian New Yorkers were even higher.
Rich Buery, Robin Hood’s chief executive officer, said if the experiences of Asian New Yorkers remain poorly understood, some of its members will continue to be underserved.
“It was important to us that we shine a light on this community,” Buery said in an interview.
Robin Hood is the city’s largest anti-poverty organization, which last year gave $172 million in grants to more than 200 programs that helped some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
In 2020, researchers began interviewing survey participants in Mandarin for the first time, giving them a window into the poverty experienced by Chinese New Yorkers. The survey included 559 Asian New Yorkers and more than 400 of them were of Chinese descent, according to one of the report’s authors, Qin Gao, who is a professor at Columbia University School of Social Work and the university’s director of the China Center for Social Policy.
Researchers found that 23% of Asian New Yorkers lived in poverty in 2020, comparable to the rate of poverty experienced by Black and Latinx New Yorkers, and higher than the citywide average of 16% of all New Yorkers.
“Usually, many people think Asians are better off economically than Blacks and Latinos, but our data show, no, that's not true,” Gao said. “So that's something that needs to be known and to be really digested and understood a bit.”
The poverty rate of Asian New Yorkers who were 65 or older in 2020 was 28% compared to 23% for seniors citywide. Researchers also found that the poverty rate among Asian New Yorkers with a high school degree or less in 2020 was 33% compared to 27% of all New Yorkers.
Linying He, associate director of research for the Asian American Federation, an umbrella organization that represents the interests of 1.7 million New Yorkers, applauded Robin Hood’s efforts to understand the experiences of Asian New Yorkers. But she urged the group to do more to reach this diverse group of New Yorkers made up not just of Mandarin speakers, but of people from more than 30 countries with distinct cultures and languages.
“I think it’s a good start,” He said.
She said Robin Hood should consider expanding its future surveys to capture the experiences of Indian and Korean New Yorkers, who, together with people of Chinese descent, represent the top three Asian populations in the city.
In the Chinese and Indian communities, different dialects are spoken, He said, making it that much harder for researchers to reach these New Yorkers.
“I know it's very difficult but at least we need to advocate for that because if they only do it in Mandarin and in English, there's a lot of information they cannot catch,” she said.
Buery, the foundation’s CEO, said he agrees and pledged to explore ways to incorporate Asian New Yorkers who speak other languages in future surveys.
“I think it's a fair critique,” Buery said. “So clearly, we need to continue to do better, and that’s our plan.”