What “Crazy Rich Asians” is not telling us about the income gap
While Hollywood celebrates diversity, immigrant Asians are in the midst of the widest income gap in America
Aug 22, 2018
An all-Asian cast, the glitzy display of the life of the rich, and a Kris Aquino cameo—these have all helped hype up the novel-turned-film by Kevin Kwan, “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is set to screen in theaters in the Philippines today.
In the U.S., the romantic comedy by The Warner Bros. has raked in $26.5 million in box office sale during its weekend premiere. But some demographers are worried that the movie’s popularity is overshadowing the realities for most immigrant Asians, and even sending the wrong message about their economic status.
The dreamy depiction of the life of immigrant Asians in America does not ring true for most Asians in the US, who are now in the midst of the greatest income inequality among any other racial and ethnic groups.
This is according to a report by the Pew Research Center published last July that showed that the income inequality between Asians near the top and the bottom of the economic ladder has almost doubled from 1970 to 2016.
The report also said that “the distribution of income among Asians transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic groups,” even displacing African-Americans as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in America.
Based on Pew Research Center’s analysis of government data, Asians at the 90th percentile of their income distribution had 10.7 times the income of Asians at the 10th percentile in 2016.
Furthermore, the income of those at the 90th percentile rose by 96%, with those at the median-income level having a 54% increase in income. Meanwhile, the Asians at the bottom of the income ladder only saw an 11% increase within that 46-year period.
Some of the aspects that contribute to this disparity according to the report are varying levels of education, skills and English-language proficiency among immigrant Asians.
Indians and Chinese, for example, enjoy a higher income primarily because they have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is compared to their Southeast Asian counterparts like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, wherein less than 30% of the popular have college degrees.
In the infographic used by The New York Times, based on the data from Pew Research Center, 40% of the Filipino population—lagging behind India among the median income-earners—have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Author Kevin Kwan speaking to the Times of the appeal of the movie acknowledged that they are far more Asian narratives that need to be told, including that of the “crazy poor Asians or just crazy average Asians.”
With the movie opening in theaters in the country today, one could only hope that the picture-perfect depiction not only bring light upon Asian talents and their countless possibilities but also to the struggles of the real Asians living, not only in America but everywhere in the world.
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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
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