I was in line at Target one day last spring, checking the time on my phone because I knew I had cut it close by trying to squeeze in the errand on my way to picking the kids up from school. It should have been a quick stop to buy a few things, but I had been in line for a long time. In front of me, an Asian woman who looked to be in her 30s with a toddler son was paying for her stuff. She wasn’t buying a lot, so why was it taking so long? I watched her, with her head down as she handed over something to the cashier. My eyes zoomed in on a logo: WIC.
She was on food stamps?
I would not have expected it. She looked clean-cut, respectably dressed — neither ostentatious nor in rags — her hair was styled in an unassuming long bob… and she was Asian.
Everyone’s talking about SNAP and WIC after the House Republicans voted last week to cut billions of dollars from food stamp programs. But discussions of poverty, and its often related conditions of single motherhood and childhood nutrition, rarely focus on Asian Americans. Seeing that woman using her WIC vouchers at Target opened my eyes. It’s like one of those times you hear a new word and then, all of a sudden, you start hearing it everywhere. Not too long after that experience, we were at a government office applying for passports, when my eyes drifted to the WIC logo on a water bottle held by an Asian woman. I recalled overhearing snippets of Mandarin spoken by elderly Chinese Americans waiting in line while I was visiting a food bank for a work project.
There’s more to poverty among Asian Americans than just my little anecdotes. Earlier this year, a study of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California revealed some surprising statistics. Despite the common idea that Asians are the Model Minority, in California (home to the largest number of Asian Americans) there are many who are poor and Asian.
Here are some of the statistics of Asian poverty:
- Asians have higher poverty rates than whites (10% and 8%)
- Asians have greater proportion of low-income than whites(24% and 20%)
- Asians have lower per capita income than whites ($29,841 and $42,052)
When it comes to families, especially single moms, the statistics are even more dire.
- 16 % of Asian American families have three or more workers contributing to household income (compared to 10% of whites)
- 53% of AAPI single mothers do not earn enough to cover their families basic needs
To see the full 2013 report A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California visit the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice website.