The Oregonian: Multnomah County Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders lag behind their counterparts locally and nationally
Author: Dana Tims
Posted: October 9, 2012


Read the original story in The Oregonian here.

Surveys showing that Asian and Pacific Islanders are achieving economic parity with their white counterparts elsewhere in the country are not holding true in Multnomah County, according to a new report. 

To the contrary, the county's nearly 70,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders face deep disparities in terms of educational attainment, occupations, poverty rates, housing values and incomes, the report states. 

"This is a surprising story," said the report's author, Ann Curry-Stevens, assistant professor in Portland State University's School of Social Work. "It is not the story we expected to see." 

Far from being the "model minority" portrayed in some recent national research efforts, many Asian and Pacific Islanders in Multnomah County are struggling to maintain a foothold in the current flagging economy, several presenters told county commissioners this week. 

API median family income levels of $57,807, for instance, trail the $71,296 annual incomes of white families in the county. 

Poverty rates among all families raising children are nearly double for API families, while API housing values lag significantly behind those of white families, $260,300 to $298,300. 

And while 44.7 percent of whites hold managerial or professional occupations, only 36.4 percent of their API counterparts do. 

Educational attainment on state reading and literature test standards revealed even starker contrasts, according to the report. 

While 85 percent of white children met or exceeded the reading standards last year, even larger percentages of several Asian American groups did. But collectively, the share of Asian American students passing the state benchmarks trailed white students by 11 percentage points. 

The gap was far wider for some Asian American groups. 

Only a third of the 113 Burmese children who attend Portland public schools met or exceeded reading benchmarks, the report states. Among the 896 Nepalese children who took the tests, only 24 percent met or exceeded the benchmarks. 

That figure plummeted to zero among the 118 Karen children taking the tests. The Karen people are an ethnic minority from Myanmar, formerly Burma. 

Those findings took even long-term members of the county's Asian American community by surprise. 

"There is really some stark and startling information here we were not aware of," said June Arima Schumann, board co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. "The degree of the disconnect is really stunning." 

The report – the fourth in a series that PSU and the Coalition of Communities of Color are producing to examine the conditions of minority populations in the county – relied heavily on data from the U.S. Census. However, since the Census discontinued use of its highly detailed "long form" in 2010, less reliable secondary sources and various community surveys also were used. 

Schumann noted that 27 different ethnic communities, representing nearly 60 distinct languages, make up the county's Asian Pacific Islanders. 

The report included statistics showing that API community members in Multnomah County are faring considerably poorer than those in King County, Washington. 

Commissioner Deborah Kafoury called the report "eye-opening," adding that the information was "hard to listen to." 

Other board members said they plan to look for opportunities to enact the report's recommendations. Those include continuing to collect and report accurate data, changing prerequisites for county hiring to acknowledge foreign credentials and work experience, and expanding funding for "cultural-specific services."