Public discussion of a new study by the Pew Research Center titled “Twenty to One” has focused on the report’s main finding: that the Great Recession has resulted in record highs in wealth disparity in the U.S., especially among Latinos and blacks in comparison with whites. The report compares the median household assets of the nation’s largest ethnic groups in 2005 and again in 2009, using data from the U.S. Census.
“Twenty to One” also treats the recession’s effect on Asian Americans, which is my focus in this post. They, too, have suffered disproportionate losses as a group, even though they started out ahead. It may surprise many to learn that in 2005, the median household wealth of Asian Americans was greater than that of whites. By 2009, however, after three years of the Great Recession, they had lost their place at the top, having lost 54 percent of their assets. In dollars according to the report, “Their net worth fell from $168,103 in 2005 to $78,066 in 2009.”
What happened? The report gives two partial explanations. First, Asians are geographically concentrated in California and a few other especially hard-hit locations, while whites are more evenly spread across the country. Second, the makeup of Asians as an ethnic group has itself changed; a large number of new immigrants with appreciably lower assets brought down the group as a whole. That latter explanation has been documented. By taking out the newly arrived Asians and re-computing the data, then the household wealth of the remaining Asian American dropped only 31 percent, not 54 percent. But even smaller number that substantiates the major finding that minorities have suffered disproportionately from the recession. After all, the revised figure (31 percent) of loss by Asian Americans is still nearly twice that of white households (16 percent).
One other finding that pertains to all four ethnic groups indicates the depth of the growing disparity gap in household wealth. The study found that within each ethnic/racial group it studied, the wealth gap also grew. In other words, disparities have increased among Hispanics themselves, among blacks themselves and among Asians themselves, as well as between each and all of these minorities when compared with whites.