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invisible struggles of lower income asian americans gain spotlight

Invisible struggles of lower-income Asian Americans gain spotlight

A Chicago-based organization is leading the charge on a multi-state study that spotlights the often invisible struggles and needs of low-income Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders by taking a novel approach toward collecting data. Change InSight, a coalition led by the Chinatown-based nonprofit Chinese American Service League (CASL), has been surveying communities in more Asian languages, allowing for better data. The coalition is the first national web platform to collect community-level data from low-income Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities on public health and socioeconomic indicators. Large, mainstream demographic and health surveys are almost always conducted in English and Spanish — excluding underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) with limited English proficiency, who tend to be lower-income and need the most support. Because those communities are often not included in influential national surveys, they remain invisible to policymakers and funders and don’t get the help they need. Better data is a way to raise visibility about the needs of under-resourced AAPIs, said Alex Montgomery, director for the Center for Social Impact at the Chinese American Service League. “We are drilling down into how to support them and hope to convince funders and governments to provide resources,” she said. The push for more data on vulnerable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including in Chicago, has gained momentum in recent years after the sharp rise of anti-Asian hate attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, community members commemorated the third anniversary of the Atlanta spa mass shootings. Many of those victims were lower-income immigrants of Asian descent. Paul Luu, CEO of the Chinese American Service League, said anti-Asian hate has exposed a lack of support for at-risk AAPIs, yet they remain one of the least-studied and -understood groups in the U.S. Many who suffer from hate attacks do not speak up because of language barriers, cultural stigma or lack of awareness of resources, he said. Change InSight surveyed nearly 6,000 underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in five states and found that 62% live in poverty. It found 73% of respondents speak limited English and 34% have less than a high school education. The largest ethnic groups represented in the survey were Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Pakistani and Korean. In a regional snapshot of Chicago and Champaign, 54% of the 2,753 surveyed live in poverty. The poverty rates were highest among Chinese and Asian Indians at 61% and 31%, respectively. Among Koreans and Pakistanis, poverty rates stood at 23% and 31%, respectively. The report found 81% spoke limited English and among the Chinese respondents, 97% had limited English proficiency — the highest rate among AAPI ethnic groups. Change InSight’s regional survey also said 38% have less than a high school education and 14% lacked adequate transportation, which further limits their economic opportunities. “CASL is working to advocate for these communities, connect them with the resources they need and track issues and solutions through our research in Change InSight and programs such as the Anti-Hate Action Center,” Luu said. Change InSight’s latest findings For this year’s report, 19 community organizations in Illinois, including Chicago and Champaign, New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle surveyed 5,932 AAPIs in multiple Asian languages. It’s unclear how many languages were used but for last year’s report, surveys were conducted in English and 11 Asian languages including Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Urdu, Tagalog, Hindi, Gujarati, Nepali, Arabic, Bengali and Vietnamese. The nonprofits provide social services to low-income AAPIs. Because of their on-the-ground work, they have strong connections to vulnerable people excluded by mainstream surveys due to language, cultural and technology barriers. “You need trust. [Community-based organizations] are uniquely positioned to be the deliverer not only of services but information,” said Jessica Sarowitz, founder of the Julian Grace Foundation, at a January news conference when the report was released. Funding from the Julian Grace Foundation, based in Highland Park, supported the Chinese American Service League from 2018 and then later the broader Change InSight initiative. Economic hardship among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is significant, even if less commonly known. Poverty among Chicago’s Asian population ranks second-highest among racial groups, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. In 2022, U.S. Census Bureau data by race and ethnicity showed poverty among Asians in the city was 18.2% — more than 76% higher than the white population (10.3%). The poverty rate among the Black population was 28.7% and for Chicago’s Hispanic and Latino population it was 14.8%. Demographic surveys focusing on low-income AAPIs are relatively rare. Last week, Pew Research Center issued its first report on Asian Americans living in poverty across the country. It used Census data and a survey of 7,000 Asian American adults across the U.S. from July 2022 to January 2023. From Census data, it said about 70,000 Asians in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro area live in poverty — the fourth-largest population out of 10 U.S metro areas. Pew’s survey of 7,000 Asian American adults was in six Asian languages — and claims to be the largest nationally representative survey of its kind. This is only the second time that Pew has surveyed Asian Americans in Asian languages. Of those polled, 561 had incomes at or below 100% of the federal poverty line. In 2018, a Pew analysis found that Asians in the U.S. displaced Black people as the racial group with the largest income gap, a seminal study that shifted stereotypes of Asians as “model minorities,” who don’t face economic hardship. Why Change InSight was launched Chinese American Service League, founded in 1948, is the Midwest’s largest social service agency serving Asian Americans. In 2021, the nonprofit began planning the Change InSight initiative after success with its own community-based surveys. The organization had overhauled its own client database in 2018 that allowed better tracking and analysis of clients’ needs. For example, better data identified high rates of food insecurity and hunger among Chinese American seniors. To address that, in 2020 it launched a seniors’ meals program in Chicago. In 2022, the meal program won a $1 million federal grant and doubled its reach to 600 seniors. Further surveys revealed people across ages were food insecure. In response, they launched a full food and nutrition program that today serves 10,500 free meals per week to people of all ages. The nonprofit is now planning to hire a grant writer to help Change InSight partners apply for funding to address needs identified by data. For its first survey, Change InSight in 2022 worked with seven Chicago area community organizations including CASL to survey 2,244 AAPIs and produce its first annual report. More than two dozen community organizations across the U.S. are expected to participate in the next report. Surveys will begin mid-April and continue through mid-July. Many small nonprofits lack the resources to harness data. In 2022, the Chinese American Service League created a “starter kit” and gave free training to community groups on collecting data. Most surveys are done in person. Change InSight then collates findings from other groups to produce more comprehensive reports. Change Insight’s reports also break down findings among specific AAPI ethnic groups. Without that disaggregation, nuances are lost when data is lumped together and averaged. Yet there is little disaggregated data on AAPIs in the U.S., even though they are the country’s fastest-growing racial group and comprise more than 50 ethnicities, according to Pew Research. AAPI advocates have long pushed for data disaggregation and those demands are gaining traction. President Joe Biden’s 2021 White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders named data disaggregation as a top priority for improving equity.

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