Disaggregating the Monolithic Model Minority

Better data is the key to understanding the diverse and often ignored population of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) living in the United States, according to the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. Last week, the Council—a coalition of 30 AANHPI organizations—gave a briefing to Urban Institute researchers about policy issues salient to the community. They also suggested research specific to AANHPIs, the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States.

Over 18.5 million AANHPIs live in the United States, representing 6 percent of the total population. They originate from more than 30 countries and speak over 100 languages and, yet, are often treated as one monolithic group. Individuals in this community are often cast as the Asian American “model minority:” highly educated, affluent, hard working, and self-sufficient, a constituency that has no need for government assistance. Moreover, its smaller size compared with the Latino and African American communities renders AANHPIs virtually invisible or ignored in the policymaking process and ultimately, in the allocation of resources.

Council presenters sought to dispel the myth and put the spotlight on economic, employment, housing, healthcare, education, civil rights, and immigration issues for AANHPIs. They argued that there is a general lack of data about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. When research is conducted, the information gathered is not disaggregated, thereby painting an inaccurate picture of the various ethnic groups that comprise the population. This stymies policy initiatives beneficial to AANHPIs and their families, resulting in little to no access to benefits and resources.

Taken together, for example, only 14 percent of AANHPIs experienced job loss since 2008, meaning they fared better than most Americans. When the data is broken down however, we learn that not all AANHPIs had the same experience. Seventeen percent of Chinese and 20 percent of Hmong experienced job loss since 2008; and close to a quarter of Cambodians lost their jobs.

Researchers interested in communities of color, and Asian Americans in particular, need to find ways to collect representative and adequate data on the various subgroups that comprise the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community. They need to ensure that data is disaggregated when presented, especially to policymakers, in order for the disparate needs of the communities to be addressed.

Additional information on AANHPI policy issues and recommendations can be found in NCAPA’S 2012 Policy Platform.

Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, December 4, 2012.

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