If you look closely enough at the numbers in a new Pew research report, Twenty to One, you’ll find that Asian American households have dropped from having the highest median household wealth in 2005, having lost 54% of their assets by 2009 during the “Great Recession” (by contrast white households lost 16%). In the report, the actual numbers show that for Asian American households, “net worth fell from $168,103 in 2005 to $78,066 in 2009”. This decline should be no surprise, given recent news reports that Asian Americans (and Asian American seniors) are harder hit by the recession.
The Pew report gives their own explanations to the wealth decline. The Asian American population has a large population in California, which was hit harder by the housing meltdown. Asian Americans on average tend to have more of their net assets in real estate, while Caucasian Americans have assets more evenly spread between housing, stocks, bonds, and other investments. That, along with a large influx of Asian immigrants in the last decade (who generally have lower assets), have contributed to the larger decline in Asian American net worth.
If you remove recent Asian American immigrants from the data, it turns out that Asian Americans’ wealth dropped by 31 percent, which is still double of that of white families. So while Asian Americans may not have suffered as much as the raw data seems to indicate, there’s still significant pain there for most Asian American families. Another factor not discussed in the Pew report though is that Asian American families also tend to be larger and multi-generational, possibly accounting for why Asian American household wealth was higher than white household wealth in 2005.
If I look at my own family and friends, I easily see examples where Asian Americans were hit harder and have had more devastating effects from the recession. Among my family members who lost jobs, they seem to find themselves unemployed for longer periods of time, in addition to being more adversely affected by the housing downturn.
There was one other finding in the Pew study that was disturbing. Within each ethnic/racial group it studied, the wealth gap grew. What this means is of course the rich are getting richer, while the poor continue to get poorer, regardless of racial identity.