Asian American is a racial category that includes Americans who are from or whose relatives are from a diverse group of countries: China, Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and many others. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, and are predicted to be the nation’s largest immigrant group by 2050. Asian Americans are forecast to exceed the Hispanic share of the immigrant population and to make up 36% of all US immigrants by 2055, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nearly 6 in 10 Asian Americans in the US were born abroad as of 2019, making that most Asian Americans are immigrants. In 2021, the Asian American population was estimated to be approximately 24 million, 7.3% of the total US population. Chinese Americans are the largest Asian American nationality with a population of 5.4 million, followed by Asian Indian (4.8 million), Filipino (4.4 million), Vietnamese (2.3 million), Korean (2.0 million) and Japanese (1.6 million). The Asian American population is expected to reach 46 million people by 2060.
The Asian American population is highly urbanized, mostly residing in cities in California and New York, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. California has the highest Asian American population, with a total of 6.7 million Asian Americans, accounting for 17% of California’s total population. New York also has a high Asian American population, approximately 1.9 million. Hawaii has the highest relative population of Asian Americans, where the Asian American population comprises 56% of the island’s total population. Although traditionally Asian Americans have resided in the Northeast and West regions of the US, recent migration studies show that Asian Americans are expanding their footprint by moving to the Midwest and South.
The household median income for Asian Americans increased by 1.8% from 2020 to $101,418 in 2021. That is 43% greater than the national median income of $70,784. Among Asian American subgroups, Indian Americans have the highest median income ($119,000), followed by Filipino Americans ($90,000), Japanese Americans ($83,000) and Chinese Americans ($82,000). Asian Americans are experiencing faster income inequality growth than other demographic groups, according to Pew, as Burmese Americans make a median income of $44,000.
Income and wages are shaped by a myriad of factors, of which education is one of the most important. When educational attainment is factored in, income comparisons between Asian Americans and Whites become more complex. Asian Americans with less than a high school education make approximately the same amount as White Americans at the same educational attainment level: $29,850 compared to $29,172. However, Asian Americans who finished high school and/or undergraduate degrees are paid less than equivalently educated Whites. Asian Americans with a high school degree earn a median $41,084 per year, compared to $46,657 for Whites. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn $81,538, lagging college-educated White Americans’ $85,024 median salary.
Asian Americans’ overall median income is higher because of the high level of Asian Americans with graduate degrees. Around 61% of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the national average of 37.9%. Asian Americans with a master’s degree earn $118,688 while White Americans with the same credential only earn $98,430. Asian Americans not only have a higher rate of graduate degrees, but also a greater tendency toward degrees that confer higher pay in the job market, such as business, biological and biomedical sciences and health professions.
Another factor to understand Asian American income is household size. In 2021, Asian Americans on average had a household size of 3.4, compared to the national average of 3.0. This larger average household size, coupled with the disproportionate concentration of Asian Americans in metropolitan areas where the cost of living is high, are important factors to understanding Asian American income more richly than the raw topline statistics.
Despite Asian Americans having the highest household median income, many Asian Americans still face economic insecurity. In 2022, the poverty rate was 11% for Asian Americans compared to 8.1% for White, non-Hispanic Americans. Financial insecurity varies widely within the Asian American populace. Large discrepancies between income and wealth among Asian American nationalities lends itself to different degrees of economic inequality. According to 2022 data from the Asian Pacific American Caucus, the poverty rate was 13% for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 6% for Filipino Americans, 25% for Burmese and 31% for Micronesian Americans not from Guam. These metrics are less precise for Asian Americans than for other groups: Many Asian Americans are falling through the cracks in data representation and social services, making it difficult to evaluate accessibility of services for Asian Americans who need them.
Asian Americans have the lowest unemployment rate of any non-White demographic. The Asian American unemployment rate was 2.4% in May 2022, lower even than the White unemployment rate at that time and far below the national average of 3.6%. As of June 2023, Asian American unemployment stood at 3.2%, compared to 6% for Black Americans, 4.3% for Latino Americans and 3.1% for White Americans. Such low rates of unemployment may be explained through the type of immigration seen from Asia to the US. Today, Asian immigrants account for 31 percent of all immigrants in the US. Many of them are employed in high-skilled jobs and enter the United States on temporary H-1B visas for specialty occupation workers. Asian immigrants hold the majority of employer-sponsored H-1B visas. In 2018, Chinese nationals received nearly half of EB-5 investor green cards, a special immigration status that grants permanent residency to an individual on the condition that they invest $500,000 to finance a business that will employ at least 10 American workers. Educational attainment also plays a large role in determining labor market outcomes, which is a major contributor to the lower unemployment rate of Asians in the United States.
Although unemployment is low, Asian Americans suffer from long-term joblessness more than other workers. The median duration of unemployment for Asian Americans was 21.9 weeks in 2021 — longer than any other demographic tracked by the Labor Department. These economic challenges and job-insecurity are most intense among non-highly educated Asian Americans.
In 2022, 61% of Asian Americans had achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the 37.9% national average. Asian American men were slightly more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than women, with rates of 56.9% and 52.9% respectively.
This narrow gender gap belies vast differences in educational attainment along other intra-group lines. The share of Asian Americans ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree varies greatly by origin group. Those of Indian (75%), Malaysian (65%), Mongolian (60%) or Sri Lankan (60%) origin are more likely than other Asian origin groups to have at least a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, fewer than one-in-five Laotians (18%) and Bhutanese (15%) have at least a bachelor’s degree. This likely reflects differences in the nature of Asian American immigration between these same groups: Those who come in through refugee resettlement efforts are more likely to have a much lower income and a lower education level than those who are brought in through work visas in higher paying sectors. Studies of refugees from Southeast Asia show that this demographic has significantly higher rates of unemployment, and lower levels of education and household income. The discrepancies in levels of education among Asian Americans may account for the intragroup differences in income, employment and wealth.
Asian American households in 2021 had a median household wealth of $206,400, which is not statistically different from White householders. Although the racial wealth divide between Asians and White households has bridged over the last 20 years, Pew Research Center explains that AAPI have the greatest wealth gap of any ethnic group. Those at the top 10 percent earn 11 times more than those at the bottom. Also, Asian Americans at the bottom of the income distribution have less wealth than Whites similarly located.