Indian Americans are the most educated population in the U.S., with more than 80 percent holding college or advanced degrees, stated a report released June 19 by the Pew Research Center.
Indians Americans also have the highest income levels, earning $65,000 per year with a median household income of $88,000, far higher than the U.S. household average of $49,000, according to the survey.
But the report, titled “The Rise of Asian Americans,” was immediately taken to task by several organizations for its seemingly-homogenous portrayal of the U.S.’s fastest growing ethnic population.
“Our community is not a monolith,” said Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, in an interview with NPR. Iyer, who also serves as chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, said that the community has historically been seen as a model minority, or job takers, and viewed with suspicion.
“We need to make sure we are not portraying a one-dimensional picture of our community. We have to look at those who are not as much of a success story,” said Iyer, calling for the disaggregation of data of various Asian American subgroups.
In a letter to India-West, Iyer noted that one out of five South Asian Americans lack health insurance and one out of every three Bangladeshis in New York lives in poverty. “South Asians as a whole continue to face discrimination and immigration barriers and often lack access to vital services,” she said.
“If we ignore the disparities within our communities in favor of a model minority narrative, then government agencies, philanthropic institutions and lawmakers may leave us out when designing programs, providing funding or changing policy intended to address pressing issues many Americans face,” stated Iyer.
The Asian American Center for Justice applauded the Pew Center for surveying the community, but said its findings were “overly simplistic.” Household income is a poor measure of success for immigrant communities, which tend to have a larger number of workers per household and a greater number of people who rely on the income, noted the AAJC.
The 225-page Pew report does disaggregate data for the Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese American population, but lumps Bangladeshis into the “other Asian” category. The report contains no data for the Pakistani, Afghan, Sri Lankan, Nepali or Bhutanese communities.
The 3,511 people interviewed for the survey included 580 Indian Americans who were interviewed earlier this year. While household income surpasses that of the U.S. population at large, slightly more than half of Indian Americans own their homes, compared to a two-thirds rate of home ownership among the U.S. population at large.
Nine percent of Indian Americans live in poverty, defined as $19,000 annually for a family of three.
Nearly 87 percent of the Indian American population is foreign born, and eight percent of the families surveyed have had a baby in the past year, as opposed to seven percent in the total U.S. population.
Almost three-fourths of Indian Americans are married, significantly higher than for the U.S. overall, in which only half are married. Ninety-two percent of Indian American children live with two married parents, and only two percent of Indian American babies are born to unwed mothers.
Only eight percent of Indians view the U.S. as better for the strength of family ties; 69 percent regard India as better in that regard, but still see America as a good place to raise children.
Whether myth or reality, Asian Americans have gained a reputation for being strict and demanding parents. Indian Americans stood out from the other Asian groups for the emphasis they put on good parenting and more than 71 percent believe American parents are too easy on their children. More than two-thirds of Indian Americans believe that parents should have some influence on their children’s career choices.
One-fourth of the nation’s 3.1 million Indian Americans live in the West, while 31 percent live in the Northeast and 29 percent live in the South.
Compared to other Asian Americans, Indians are the most likely to identify as Democrats; 65 percent are registered for that party or lean that way. Eighteen percent are Republicans.
Two-thirds of Indian Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, according to the Pew report.
Asian Americans are also strong proponents of hard work with two-thirds of those surveyed saying that people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard. Only 27 percent say hard work is no determinant of success. Interestingly, three-fourths of Indian Americans say hard work is the key to success whilst only two-thirds of Indians in India believe the same.
More than half of Indian Americans believe they will do better in life than their parents, whereas less than one-third of Indians living in India believe the same.
The Pew report noted that the Indian economic climate has shifted dramatically in recent years, which has led Indian Americans to be less positive about conditions in the home country. Almost 60 percent are dissatisfied with economic conditions in India, but reported high levels of satisfaction with the U.S. economic climate.
Indian Americans were also the highest ethnic group to describe their personal financial situation as good or excellent, and the most likely to say that Asian American success surpasses the U.S. population at large.
This article first appeared in India-West and is re-printed with permission.