Asian Americans Living in Poverty

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Of the 24 million Asians living in the United States, about 2.3 million live in poverty. Many are working to overcome the economic hardships they encounter and achieve their American dream. But they face challenges along the way, from Asian immigrants grappling with language barriers to U.S.-born Asians navigating pathways to success.

In February 2023, Pew Research Center conducted 18 focus groups with adult participants from 11 Asian origin groups in different regions across the U.S. These are among the most likely Asian origin groups to experience economic hardship in the U.S. Focus groups included those whose approximate family income is at or below 140%-250% of the 2022 federal poverty line, depending on their location. Accompanying these focus group findings are results from a Pew Research Center survey about the hardships and dreams of Asians living in poverty, conducted from July 2022 to January 2023.

Some common themes that focus group participants shared include day-to-day financial difficulties, assumptions by others that they do not need help because they are Asian, and the importance of financial security in achieving the American dream.

Related: 1 in 10: Redefining the Asian American Dream (Short Film)

Focus groups also reveal that Asian Americans’ experiences with economic hardship differ by whether they were born in the U.S. or outside the country. Some immigrants not only experience difficulties making ends meet, but also face challenges that come with living in a new, unfamiliar country. These include learning English, navigating daily life in a new place and finding a stable job.

Even though U.S.-born Asians grew up in this country and speak English, they talk about the challenges of understanding what it takes to succeed in America. This includes getting the “right” education, getting access to the “right” knowledge and knowing the “right” people to succeed.

The findings in this data essay reveal what participants shared about their experiences with economic hardship, overcoming challenges, and their views of the American dream and social mobility in America.

The terms Asians and Asian Americans are used interchangeably throughout this data essay to refer to those who self-identify as Asian, either alone or in combination with other races or Hispanic identity.

The terms living in poverty, living near or below the federal poverty line and living with economic hardship are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to adults whose family income is close to or below the 2022 federal poverty line.

  • For results on Asian adults from the focus groups, this refers to adults whose approximate family income is at or below 140%-250% of the federal poverty line. Thresholds varied by focus group recruitment locations to account for differences in the cost of living.
  • For results on Asian adults from the survey, this refers to adults whose approximate family income falls at or below 100% of the federal poverty line.
  • For data on the total U.S. Asian population from the U.S. Census Bureau, this refers to all Asian Americans whose family income is at or below 100% of the federal poverty line.

The terms federal poverty line and poverty line are used interchangeably to refer to the federal poverty guidelines published yearly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The term U.S. born refers to people born in 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories.

The term immigrant refers to people who were born outside the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories.

Asian Americans and financial struggles

Financial difficulties are part of many Asian Americans’ day-to-day lives, according to the 2022-23 survey. Asian adults were asked if they had experienced any of the following financial challenges in the past 12 months: gotten food from a food bank or a charitable organization, lost their health insurance, had problems paying for their rent or mortgage, had trouble paying for medical care for themselves or their family, had trouble paying their bills, or been unable to save money for emergencies.

About eight-in-ten Asian adults living near or below the poverty line (79%) have experienced at least one of these six financial challenges. In comparison, 48% of Asian adults living above the poverty line said the same.

The most common financial difficulty experienced is being unable to save for emergencies. More than half of Asian adults living in poverty (57%) said this had happened to them. By comparison, fewer Asian adults living above the poverty line (40%) said this.


More than half of Asian adults living in poverty say they have been unable to save for emergencies

% of Asian adults living near or below the federal poverty line who say they have __ in the past 12 months

Types of financial challenges%
Experienced at least one of the following financial challenges79
Been unable to save money for emergencies57
Had trouble paying bills42
Gotten food from a food bank or charitable organization38
Had problems paying rent or mortgage33
Had trouble paying for medical care28
Lost health insurance10

Note: “Asian adults living in poverty” refers to survey respondents whose approximate family income is at or below 100% of the federal poverty line. Share of respondents who didn’t offer an answer or answered “no” not shown.

Source: Survey of Asian American adults conducted July 5, 2022-Jan. 27, 2023.
“The Hardships and Dreams of Asian Americans Living in Poverty”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER


Some focus group participants shared how challenging it was for them to save because of their earnings and their family needs. Participants also talked about the urgency they feel to save for their children and retirement:

“I feel a bit helpless [about my financial situation]. … I don’t want to be in debt. I have to save money to raise my kids, but I don’t have money to save.”

–Immigrant man of Korean origin in early 30s (translated from Korean)

“[I save money] to go to Pakistan. Because I have four children … I needed five or six tickets, in case my husband traveled with us, and it required a lot of money. We used to save for one whole year, and when we were back from Pakistan, we were usually empty-handed. Then the cycle started again.”

–Immigrant woman of Pakistani origin in late 40s (translated from Urdu)

“You’re not going to work forever. No one is going to work forever. You want to have savings … for your rent [or] in case of medical bills [if] something happens. [You] might as well [save for] some trips down the while when you [can] travel still. But you’re not going to be working at 80 years old, are you?”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in early 40s

Other common difficulties for Asian Americans living near or below the poverty line include having trouble paying their bills (42%), needing to get food from a food bank or a charitable organization (38%) and having problems paying their rent or mortgage (33%), the survey found. Smaller shares of Asian adults living above the poverty line say they experienced difficulties paying their bills (17%), got food from a food bank or a charity (6%) or had trouble paying their rent or mortgage (11%).

These findings were echoed in our focus groups, where participants recalled the stress and tension their families felt when things like this happened to them:

“My dad lost his car a couple of times. There was this one time where I remember it was nighttime. All of a sudden, a cop comes over to our home [with another person]. … And my dad was forced to give up his car to this stranger … because, I don’t know, he wasn’t paying off the car or something. And it was very humiliating, and my brothers wanted to get physical with that person because he was acting very arrogantly. My dad was able to eventually pay back the car and somehow get it back. But there were many times when we might not have had a roof over our heads.”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in late 20s

Asian immigrants face challenges navigating life and employment in the U.S.

Immigrant and U.S.-born Asians experience economic hardship in different ways. Asian immigrants in the focus groups discussed how a lack of English proficiency, navigating transportation and getting a good job all shape their experiences with economic hardship.

For example, not knowing English when they first arrived in the country created extra challenges when using local transportation systems and meeting basic daily life needs such as shopping for groceries:

“When we were very young, the most difficult thing we faced [after coming to the U.S.] was not being able to speak the language. Unless you lived in those times, you wouldn’t know. We didn’t know how to buy food. … We didn’t know the language and there was no interpreter available. … I didn’t know how to take the bus, I didn’t know where to go, or to which place they were taking me to school. When we were asked to go to the classroom, we didn’t know where to go. … There was no other way, because there was no communication.”

–Immigrant woman of Hmong origin in late 50s (translated from Hmong)

Language barriers also brought extra hurdles for Asian immigrants in the job market. Some focus group participants said it was hard to explain their skills to potential employers in English effectively, even if they had the relevant education or skills for the job and had learned English before they immigrated:

“After coming [to the U.S.], there were many problems to face, first … the language problem. We have read English … but we are not used to speaking. … We also had education … but since we can’t explain ourselves in English – what we can do, what we know … we are getting rejected [from jobs] as we cannot speak. … Another problem was that I had a child. My child was small. I could not go to work leaving him. At that time, my husband was working. He also had the same thing – he had education, but he could not get a good job because of the language. [As another participant] said, we had to work below the minimum wage.”

–Immigrant woman of Bangladeshi origin in late 30s (translated from Bengali)

Not wanting to be a burden influenced life choices of many U.S.-born participants

For many U.S.-born focus group participants, concerns about being a burden to their families shaped their childhoods and many of their life decisions:

“It’s difficult to talk to [my parents] because you grew up here and it’s just totally different from them growing up in Vietnam. … It’s the same like what [another participant] was saying, when you take off the burden to your parents, right? So I dropped out of college, just because I didn’t want them paying anymore. I just didn’t think that I was going to do or be anything in college, right? So I would rather work. So I started taking responsibility of my own and you start working really hard and you getting out of the house and helping them pay for bills.”

–U.S.-born man of Vietnamese origin in mid-40s

“My family’s struggling. Is education more important, [or] is working more important? I really felt that growing up because a lot of my friends, education – going to college and going to a techno school – wasn’t really on their radar, it wasn’t really something on their plan. I think talking to a lot of the folks and a lot of my friends during their time, they felt like they had to grow up to provide for their family or for you to find some type of income to kind of help their family. And so that really drove the direction of at least one of my friends, or a lot of my friends.”

–U.S.-born man of Hmong origin in mid-30s

Some U.S.-born focus group participants said that when reflecting on their childhoods, they could see the financial burden they had on their families in a way they did not realize as a child:

“At a certain point you become very aware of how much of a financial burden you are. You don’t ask for anything you want. Like, you don’t ask for prom. You don’t ask to join clubs. You don’t ask to go on field trips, things like that. You just know that it’s going to cause so much drain on your parents.”

–U.S.-born woman of Vietnamese origin in mid-20s

“[My parents] had like a lot of responsibilities, like … giving money back to their father, and then their sisters and brothers, helping them out back [in Pakistan]. … [My father] had to support us and then send money back constantly there. I didn’t know that until now, basically. … We would hardly see him. Maybe like on Sunday, we would see him a couple of hours. But it was on the weekdays, we would hardly see our father. He was always working.”

–U.S.-born woman of Pakistani origin in early 30s

Overcoming economic challenges

The survey found that when Asian adults living in poverty have needed help with bills, housing, food or seeking a job, about six-in-ten (61%) say they’ve turned to family or friends.


A majority of Asian adults living in poverty have turned to family or friends when they need help with living expenses or employment

% of Asian adults adults living near or below the federal poverty line who say they have ever turned to or received assistance from the following for help with bills, housing, food, or searching for a job

Sources of financial help%
Family or friends61
Government49
Some other group or person23
Religious institutions21
Professional organizations*19
Asian community organizations13

* Professional organizations only offered as an option for receiving assistance when searching for a job.
Note: “Asian adults living in poverty” refers to respondents whose approximate family income is at or below 100% of the federal poverty line. “Government” includes the federal, state or local government. “Religious institutions” include churches, temples or other religious institutions. Share of respondents who didn’t offer an answer or answered “no” not shown.

Source: Survey of Asian American adults conducted July 5, 2022-Jan. 27, 2023.
“The Hardships and Dreams of Asian Americans Living in Poverty”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER


Some focus group participants mentioned that families and friends in their ethnic community were a great source of financial help. For others, the limited size of their ethnic community in the U.S. posed obstacles in obtaining assistance.

“It was very difficult during [my] study [at university]. … I had a scholarship, most of the part was scholarship; however, I had to pay something between $10,000 and $15,000 per semester. And I had to eat, I had to pay rent, I had to do everything. At the same time, there are many other things too, aren’t there? And there was always a stress about money. This semester is over now, how do I pay for the next? I had no clarity about what to do and not to do. In that situation, I approached those friends studying there or who came there a little earlier and were working to borrow money. … I [was] offered help by some friends and in finding a job and being helped for my needs.”

–Immigrant man of Nepalese origin in early 40s (translated from Nepali)

“We didn’t have a large Burmese community to ask for such help. It was not yet present. As we had no such community, when we had just arrived, we told close friends, got directions and went to ask for help.”

–Immigrant woman of Burmese origin in late 40s (translated from Burmese)

However, not all Asians living with economic hardship have asked for or received help. In the focus groups, participants shared why they or their families sometimes did not do so or felt hesitant. Fear of gossip and shame were mentioned multiple times:

“[I experienced financial difficulties after I first arrived in the U.S.] because I came here as a student. … It’s because I had to pay monthly rent and I paid for living expenses. I felt a little pressured when the monthly payment date approached. I had no choice but to ask my parents in Korea for money even as an adult, so I felt a sense of shame.”

–Immigrant woman of Korean origin in early 40s (translated from Korean)

“My cousin will [help me financially] without judgment. But, like, my aunt and elders – if it gets back to them [that I asked for help], it’s going to for sure come with judgment. And if I could figure it out myself, I will take the way without judgment.”

–U.S.-born woman of Vietnamese origin in mid-20s

“To add on to what [another participant] said, if you go to the community [for help] or whatever, you know, by tomorrow everybody’s going to know it’s your problem.”

–U.S.-born woman of Pakistani origin in early 40s

Immigrants who came to the U.S. because of conflict are more familiar with government aid programs

Asian immigrants come to this country for a variety of reasons. In the focus groups, immigrant participants who came to the U.S. due to conflict or war in their origin countries referenced government assistance programs more often than those who came for other reasons.

This reflects a broader pattern among Asian immigrants overall: Those who came because of conflict or persecution have turned to federal, state or local governments for help with living expenses or employment more often than immigrants who came for economic or educational opportunities, according to the survey.

Focus group participants reflected on differences in the amount of government help available. Sometimes, they expressed a sense of unequal treatment:

“Vietnamese have this program where people got sponsored because of the war. So for other Asians, they feel that we are more privileged. Because from what I know, the Koreans and the Japanese, they must have money in order to come to America. As for us, we can come here through the refugee program, we can come here through the political program. They feel that we got more preferential treatment than other Asians in that regard.”

–Immigrant man of Vietnamese origin in early 40s (translated from Vietnamese)

“During the pandemic, I had to go through housing assistance and everything [to pay my rent]. Something like that with EBT [Electronic Benefits Transfer], how they send you stimulus checks. Korea doesn’t have any of that stuff.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 40s

“I think my community is relatively traditional. Because 20 years ago, we went straight to Chinatown fresh off the plane [after immigrating]. I still remember being in [the local] hospital, lots of social workers were there to help out, including with a medical insurance card, and applying for service, most importantly medical insurance. We all went to [the same] street. We relied on other Chinese people.”

–Immigrant man of Chinese origin in late 30s (translated from Mandarin)

Family ties contribute to increased awareness of government programs. For example, when asked how they learned about using government programs for help, some U.S.-born participants said:

“[I learned about the government programs from] my parents. I had to translate for them.”

–U.S.-born woman of Cambodian origin in mid-30s

“I was working at [a smoothie shop], and I was 17 and a half. … My college loan was like $50,000 [and I was] making $12.50 [an hour], how the hell am I supposed to be paying that month to month? Because my month-to-month was damn near $300, $500. My $12.50 an hour does not even cover for it, any of it, whatsoever. And, you know, me [having] been kicked out of home … I was living with my aunt. … I don’t want to burden her. So I had to go and ask her. She told me, ‘Hey, you should go and apply for food stamps.’”

–U.S.-born woman of Laotian origin in mid-30s

U.S.-born and immigrant focus group participants hold different views on education’s role in achieving a better future

Reflecting on what could lead to success and achieving the American dream, focus group participants who were born in or grew up in the U.S. emphasized the value of getting connected to the “right” opportunities:

“[You don’t have] to go to school to be successful. I mean, they say there are people who are book smart and just people who are street smart, you know. [As long as you] grow up and you know the right people … networking on the right people to get into things. Or, you know, the right people to do the right things to get to where you want to be in life.”

–U.S.-born man of Hmong origin in late 20s

Other participants said it would have helped if their families had a deeper understanding of how the education system prepares them for good careers:

“I feel if my parents were educated and they could have guided me in the right direction [for college] – although, they tried their best. I’m not blaming them. But, you know, if I had someone of a more academic background who knew the system … I will try my best to help my daughter out in college or help her choose what her major is going to be. [My parents couldn’t provide] that kind of help that really helped me in choosing my major. … And so I think just the background that we come from was not the best – or not having the full grasp of this system. … Versus someone who’s had parents here for multiple years, and their parents are now telling them, like, ‘Hey, this is not the right decision for you. Try doing this. This will be better in the long run.’”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 30s

Some also said firsthand knowledge of how to invest and how the U.S. financial system works would have helped:

“[In] the newer generation, we have access to learn all the things we need to, right? [I watch videos] that talk about, like, ‘These are the things you need to do in order to be financially successful. You need to invest your money, get into stocks,’ and stuff like that. And I know that not even 1% of my Hmong community knows anything about that stuff. … So I think we can be more financially successful, including myself, if we were to look more deeply into those things.”

–U.S.-born woman of Hmong origin in late 20s

“If you’re educated and know how, like, let’s say investments work, if you know how that’s done and then you apply it actually going through [someone] like investors or even stockbrokers, then you’ll see the fruits of your labor, or at least experience that, as opposed to not even having the knowledge or even the experience to begin with.”

–U.S.-born man of Cambodian origin in mid-30s

Some participants shared that even when they have some knowledge of financial institutions, they feel the system is working against them:

“I think systematic racism [is a barrier to achieving the American dream]. … I mean, if you own a car, you got to get the bank to approve you. … And they charge people with, like, no credit the highest fee, the most percentage, which are a lot of the folks [like] us trying to achieve the American dream. And then we go to neighborhoods that have the highest crime rate, we also have the most premiums. … And so I think that, one, we’re paying a lot more with much less … the system [was] set up well before minorities, and I think we’re pretty much going to fall behind.”

–U.S.-born man of Hmong origin in mid-30s

Many focus group participants also see the value of education, especially a college one, in leading toward a better future and achieving the American dream:

“[When I think of the American dream, it means] if you work hard enough, you can succeed. … You can get an education or a higher education. Then you have so many choices here and exposure to so many ideas and concepts that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 40s

But this sentiment resonated more with immigrant participants than those born in the U.S.:

“It is the education and the relevant knowledge I think that our Hmong people must have. We’ve been living in this country for the last 45 years. I think that to live in this country, it is very important for some people. I do not think everyone has a ‘lawyer’ or a ‘doctor’ in their house. If it happens, maybe we will reach our goal and the poverty will gradually disappear from our lives.”

–Immigrant woman of Hmong origin in mid-30s (translated from Hmong)

“I think if I obtain any degree, I would perhaps be able to do something.”

–Immigrant woman of Pakistani origin in late 40s (translated from Urdu)

Assumptions about Asians hurt their chances of overcoming challenges

Participants shared that other people’s assumptions about Asians complicate their experience of living with economic hardship. Asians are often characterized as a “model minority” and portrayed as educationally and financially successful when compared with other groups.

Some participants shared how the assumption that all Asians are doing well hurt their ability to seek help:

“I have a daughter … she’s the only Asian in class. … Everybody tends to think, ‘She’s Asian; she’s so smart; her mommy has money. So you got to invite her to your birthday party because her mom is rich. [Her] mom will buy you a present.’ … I’m not rich, but because we’re Asian … she’s invited to all these parties.”

–U.S.-born woman of Hmong origin in early 30s

“What I can assume is that outside of our community, especially at the government level, [including] state level and central federal level here, we are missing out or not eligible for benefits. In their opinion, we are rich, no matter if we are working or not. [They may think] our stories may not be genuine. They may think we are making up a story [if we apply for benefits].”

–Immigrant man of Nepalese origin in early 40s (translated from Nepali)

Striving for the American dream

Freedom was a recurring theme in how focus group participants define their American dream. Two aspects were mentioned. The first was freedom from debt and stress over making ends meet, such as paying for everyday basic needs including rent and food. The second was the ability to make life choices freely without financial constraints, enabling them to live the life they aspire to.

Reaching the American dream

Half of Asians living near or below the federal poverty line say they believe they have achieved the American dream or are on their way to achieving it, the survey found. This includes 15% who say they have achieved it and 36% who say they are on their way. By comparison, among those living above the poverty line, 27% say they’ve achieved the American dream, and another 46% say they are on their way.

Among focus group participants, many were optimistic about reaching the American dream for themselves:

“[To me, the American dream is] the opportunity to come to America. I’ve learned a lot after reaching here. And I’ve been able to help my parents and relatives. Despite facing some troubles here, I’ve [provided them a] little financial assistance. I would’ve been unable to help them if I had been in Bhutan.”

–Immigrant woman of Bhutanese origin in late 40s (translated from Dzongkha)

Some participants were also hopeful that the next generation can achieve their American dream, even when they themselves are not there yet:

“When I think about the American dream, I look back at myself, because I belong to the first generation that came to this country. We all started very late. I know that this country will help you, but really it will not be easy for us. … What I think will help me to be happy is to ‘reach the American dream.’ If I can’t achieve it, then I will support my children so that they can reach the dream and I will be happy with them. I will give my children money to help them study.”

–Immigrant woman of Hmong origin in late 50s (translated from Hmong)

“If I can’t get [the American dream] for myself, it is okay. No matter how I am, I’ve already reached half of my life. But I’ve done as much as I can do for [my children], so my responsibility is done. If it’s their turn, I believe they will be able to do all that I couldn’t. I believe it.”

–Immigrant woman of Burmese origin in late 40s (translated from Burmese)

Still, the survey found that 47% of Asian adults living in poverty say the American dream is out of reach for them, higher than the share among those living above the poverty line (26%). Not all Asians living in poverty feel the same way about achieving the American dream, with U.S.-born Asians in the focus groups being less optimistic about reaching the American dream than immigrant Asians.

“In a certain era with the U.S. and the immigrants coming, the American dream [was] you come, you study, you do this, you can climb up the ladder, etc., etc. That was the big American dream. And I think there was a period where that was possible. Not any longer.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 40s

Others also shared worries about their prospects of reaching the American dream because of different immigration histories and economic concerns such as inflation:

“I think I was conditioned to think too small to have the American dream. … Vietnamese Americans came over here at a very specific time. … There were Chinese Americans that came here like centuries ago, and they had the time to build generational wealth. We know that Vietnamese people came here in the ’70s. That’s not enough time to grow generational wealth.”

–U.S.-born woman of Vietnamese origin in late 20s

“I have kids. … They’re spoiled. … Now with inflation, houses are more expensive now [than 10, 20 years ago], right? Let’s say 20 years from now, when they buy a house, [the American dream] is going to be unachievable, you know what I mean? Like, unless they are a TikTok star or an entertainer or some kind. … [It’s] going to be tough.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in late 30s

Freedom from debt

For many participants, being debt-free is important to their vision of the American dream and promotes a life with more financial stability and independence:

“[If I could choose one dream in America, it would be to have] no debt. … When buying something, they always say, ‘Be careful, or you’ll be in debt.’ … And that is what got stuck in my throat.”

–Immigrant woman of Laotian origin in mid-30s (translated from Lao)

“[I haven’t achieved the American dream because I’m not] debt-free, you know, just trying to have extra money, instead of living paycheck to paycheck.”

–U.S.-born man of Vietnamese origin in mid-40s

“[My dream in America is] to be independent, for example, we always lived with the money of mom and dad. One is to be independent when you come here. Let me earn so much money that if I go to the store and buy something, I don’t even have to look at the price tag. That [is] my dream.”

–Immigrant woman of Nepalese origin in early 40s (translated from Nepali)

Participants shared that being debt-free also means having less stress and worry about making ends meet so that they can have extra resources and bandwidth to help their families:

“[The most important thing to achieving the American dream is] being debt-free and having real estate and income steadiness. … If you have rent income, you’re not trading in your time for money, so you have real estate. … You’re not stressing, you have time for your kids more, and your family. You’re probably a little bit happier.”

–Immigrant man of Cambodian origin in mid-20s

“The main thing is that I want to fully support my father and mother, and that I don’t have to worry about [how] I will support myself, or how I will pay my house rent. This is my number one.”

–Immigrant woman of Bangladeshi origin in late 20s (translated from Bengali)

For others, having a stable job is an important step to reaching the American dream:

“I want to have a job, and if I have a job, I’ll have money. I’m only working three and a half days a week right now, and I want to work more. I want more jobs the most, right now. I don’t need anything in America. Just a job.”

–Immigrant woman of Laotian origin in mid-30s (translated from Lao)

Freedom to dream

Focus group participants mentioned having the financial ability to not only meet their basic needs, but also pursue their dreams. Asians born in the U.S. mentioned the freedom to chase one’s aspirations without financial constraints more often than immigrants. Regardless of nativity, the ability to live the life they want is fundamental to many focus group participants’ definitions of the American dream:

“[When] everyone around you is immigrants and you’re all just trying to survive, the only thing you’re trained to think about is survival. But you’re not thinking about investment. Like, when you grow older and you start thinking, ‘Okay, I need to spend money to make money,’ that’s when you start thinking bigger. Yeah, I’m not just thinking about like having one home, I want 10 homes.”

–U.S.-born woman of Vietnamese origin in late 20s

“[Financial] stability is you have nothing but you could survive. [Financial] freedom is you have enough that you can do anything you want. That’s my financial freedom.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in late 30s

The American dream, to some focus group participants, is about more than financial achievements. Finding happiness and helping others, ultimately leading them to live the life they desire, are key parts of their American dream.

“I want to thank [another participant] for saying ‘self-actualization,’ because personally I think it’s really powerful to be able to know what you want. Because then you’ll know what kind of job you want, what kind of house you want, whether you want to be in politics or not. Like, loving yourself and understanding yourself to your core, then that will be the [deciding factor].”

–Immigrant man of Cambodian origin in early 40s

“I think for me [the American dream] is that there is a house for me, with no interest, I do not owe any loan, my parents could live there comfortably, their struggle is over, and also I have enough … to be able to do something for Pakistan later [in life], God willing.”

–Immigrant woman of Pakistani origin in mid-20s (translated from Urdu)

“[Some people define success as having] lots of money, kids, cars, right? But that’s not really … what I would consider success. Success is something that – does it make you happy? … Are you happy every day going to work? Does it make you happy? When you come home, are you happy?”

–U.S.-born woman of Hmong origin in late 20s

About this project

Pew Research Center designed these focus groups and survey questions to better understand the experiences of Asian Americans living with economic hardship. By including participants who are among the Asian origin groups most likely to experience poverty, the focus groups aimed to capture, in their own words, their experiences and challenges in America today. The discussions in these groups may or may not resonate with all Asians living in poverty in the United States.

The project is part of a broader research portfolio studying the diverse experiences of Asians living in the U.S.

Survey and demographic analysis of Asians living in poverty

For a comprehensive examination of Asian adults’ experiences with economic hardship from Pew Research Center’s 2022-23 survey of Asian Americans, as well as a demographic analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, read “Key facts about Asian Americans living in poverty.”

Short film

Videos throughout this data essay illustrate what focus group participants discussed. Individuals recorded in these video clips did not participate in the focus groups but were selected based on similar demographic characteristics and thematically relevant stories.

Watch the short film related to the themes in the data essay.

Methodological note

This multi-method research project examines the many facets of living with economic hardship among Asian Americans today.

The qualitative analysis is based on 18 focus groups conducted in February 2023 in 12 languages with 144 participants across four locations. Recruited participants had an approximate family income that is at or below 140%-250% of the federal poverty line, depending on the location. More information about the focus group methodology and analysis can be found in the focus group methodology.

The survey analysis included in this data essay is based on 561 Asian adults living near or below the poverty line from Pew Research Center’s 2022-23 survey of Asian Americans, the largest nationally representative survey of Asian American adults of its kind to date, conducted in six languages. For more details, refer to the survey methodology. For questions used in this analysis, refer to the topline questionnaire.

Acknowledgments

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. The Center’s Asian American portfolio was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from The Asian American Foundation; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; the Doris Duke Foundation; The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Long Family Foundation; Lu-Hebert Fund; Gee Family Foundation; Joseph Cotchett; the Julian Abdey and Sabrina Moyle Charitable Fund; and Nanci Nishimura.

We would also like to thank the Leaders Forum for its thought leadership and valuable assistance in helping make this survey possible.

The strategic communications campaign used to promote the research was made possible with generous support from the Doris Duke Foundation.

This is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of a number of individuals and experts at Pew Research Center and outside experts.

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