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Asian Americans and Social Security

Low-wage careers, long life spans make retirement benefits particularly important

Income gap

Among foreign-born Asians who immigrated to America, the report noted a striking gap between high- and low-wage earners.

"There is such diversity within the Asian population, more than other ethnic groups," says Meizhu Lui, author of the report. "On one end, you have highly educated Chinese people [and South Asians] recruited for high-wage tech jobs. At the other end you have people who came here as a result of Southeast Asian wars and from agricultural backgrounds who are not well educated and low-tech. Some came here when they were older, so language is an obstacle. Social Security is particularly important to them, and it's harder for them to live on that income because their wages have been so low and their length of time working may not be as long."

Far fewer Asian Americans (27 percent) have retirement savings and pension income than whites (44 percent). Language barriers and a lack of awareness of the Social Security program were also considered obstacles to receiving benefits, the report said.

About 71 percent of foreign-born Asian Americans don't speak English at home and require help from community-based organizations to connect them to services.

Other findings

The report also concluded that:

  • 13 percent of older Asian and Pacific Islander Americans live in poverty compared with about 10 percent of all older adults.

  • Social Security disability insurance is the most important source of income for Asian Americans with disabilites of all ages. Of those receiving SSDI, 56 percent rely on it for more than 75 percent of their income.

  • Foreign-born Asian Americans in the United States outnumber their native-born counterparts by one-third.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the
AARP Bulletin.

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