“The Hidden Hungry” shines a light on why we need disaggregated data

by Joy Lee

(The Faces of the “Hidden Hungry/ MSNBC)

In a recent MSNBC report, Richard Lui tells the story of a 79-year-old Asian American man who has been living in poverty for six years, unable to afford the rising cost of food. Lui’s piece on “The Hidden Hungry,” unveils one of the biggest challenges facing Asian Americans: Our poorest, most vulnerable populations are often hidden behind a one-size-fits-all portrayal of the Asian American community.

According to AAPI Data, 1 in 10 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are a part of the “hidden hungry”, living day to day without enough to eat. Americans don’t often realize the struggles Asian American families face because the more visible faces of Asian Americans are of successful professionals. But the reality is not that simple.

Disaggregated data — information that breaks down Asian Americans by region, ethnic communities and more, is critical for Asian American visibility and countering the model minority myth that all Asian Americans are doing well.

In recent years, Asian Americans Advancing Justice launched “A Community of Contrasts,” a series of demographic reports that present the latest disaggregated data on the Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. The report is the first step to exposing the struggles and inequalities faced by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

For example, the report highlights that Hmong Americans have the lowest per capita income of any racial or ethnic group. In addition, Bangladeshi, Laotian, and Cambodian Americans have poverty rates that are similar to those of African Americans and Latinos.

The report also shows that most Asian Americans are foreign-born. Immigrants face additional challenges,such as language or cultural barriers, which often lead to economic disadvantage.

Collecting this data and telling the stories of real people’s struggles allow us to advocate for our communities’ most vulnerable. Our policy makers and community organizations need disaggregated data in order to advocate for and make informed decisions about how to allocate resources. Unfortunately, there is very little disaggregated data on Asian Americans, which is why we plan to continue producing our reports and advocating for improved data collection and research.

Further reading:

Spotlight on Asian American and Pacific Islander Poverty: A Demographic Profile

A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans in the U.S, 2011[ME1]

A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 2014.

Are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Financially Secure?, AARP, December 2014

The faces of the hidden hungry, MSNBC, December 27, 2014

Joy Lee is the Advocacy Communications Fellow at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

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