The AANHPI Experience: Not A Statistical Monolith

Abby Ling

Every May we celebrate the tapestry of cultures, heritages, and successes of this nation’s Asian American, Native Hawai’ian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities. While the AANHPI community is not a monolith, as each group has its own distinct customs, beliefs, and challenges, it’s clear that the community in its many forms has left an indelible impact across American culture, society, and industry.

However, as is the case with too many communities, there is a dearth of information about tax data collected on the AANHPI community. The research that is available suggests that very few Asian American families who may be eligible to claim tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC), do not claim them because “families are unfamiliar with the program and are therefore less likely to claim its benefits.” This is further complicated by the fact that the IRS has traditionally not collected demographic data on filers. To more effectively evaluate how tax policies affect different types of households, advocates are calling on the IRS to begin disaggregating the data the federal agency collects.

Data Collection is Key to Representation

Having grown up in a mostly traditional Chinese American household in a predominantly middle-class suburban town in New Jersey, much of my upbringing was attributed to the traditional Chinese model – marked by filial piety and collectivist values. It was also very much intertwined with the American culture I experienced outside the home. No doubt my lived experiences have some overlap with others in the AANHPI community, but anecdotes cannot replace data – particularly data about socioeconomics, a lack of which may impede the community’s access, or even its willingness to access, programs like tax credits.

The situation is further aggravated by the fact that there is a common misconception that all Asians have achieved the same level of economic prosperity, which is backed by the most currently available statistics. In 2019, Asian households were shown to have a higher median income ($85,800) among all U.S. households ($61,800). However, Asian Americans still had a 10% poverty rate, overall, with two Asian origin groups – Mongolian (25%) and Burmese (25%) – far exceeding the national poverty rate (13%).

Representation in data is also crucial to identifying equity issues and socioeconomic shortcomings. Data leads to the allocation of resources and tools and promotes policy changes. It informs researchers, lawmakers, and advocates of essential administrative changes, on the federal and state level, that would allow all Americans to thrive and achieve upward socioeconomic mobility. By recognizing and rectifying the limitations in data collection and policymaking, we can ensure that our approaches are inclusive, equitable, and conducive to the success and well-being of all individuals and households within the AANHPI community.

But current data collection methods fail to properly reflect the diverse ethnic groups that constitute the AANHPI community[1], leading to an increased risk of overlooking thousands of households and resulting in an incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of the AANHPI community.  If Asian Americans aren’t seen as part of a population faced with poverty, policymakers will be less compelled to allocate resources toward a need that isn’t backed by numbers and research.

Without a full picture of the data, it’s impossible to concretely discern why all eligible Americans who could benefit from social programs like tax credits are not taking advantage of them. The lack of data disaggregation also contributes to the inaccurate image that all ethnic subgroups under the AANHPI umbrella term are universally wealthy, educated, and successful. The harmful “model minority” rhetoric does nothing more than indicate to policymakers, researchers, and advocacy groups that Asian Americans don’t need to utilize social services and anti-poverty programs.

Tax Credits: Only as Strong as its Reach

Ultimately, there are thousands of AANHPI households eligible for tax benefits, but no concrete evidence as to whether all households are taking advantage of tax credits. Unless data collection and analysis are improved and disaggregated, there’s a continued risk of the AANHPI community, “falling through the cracks.”

The reality is that tools and resources like tax credits are only as strong as their implementation, reach, and the people who use and claim them. And in the end, without data, policies and proposals geared towards revising and expanding these benefits may not reach potentially eligible populations.

This is why in celebrating the AANHPI community’s rich diversity, we must move beyond one-dimensional perceptions and embrace the multitude of cultures, experiences, and challenges within the community. To dismantle the model minority myth, there needs to be a greater and proper representation of marginalized groups within the AANHPI community. We can only begin to support all Americans when we acknowledge racial and ethnic group differences and needs.


[1] A data analysis conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2022 revealed 21 separate ethnicities that identified as, “Asian alone.” Analysts found most of the sample size fell into Chinese and Asian Indian. Filipino was the third largest group, with almost 3 million respondents, then Vietnamese, Korean, and many more. Additionally, there are also more than 200,000 individuals who identified as Asian but either did not specify their origin group or belong to a population that was deemed too small to list, amounting to missed opportunities to understand their unique circumstances.