This month the Pew Research Center published a study on racial and gender wage gaps. I usually don’t take this kind of study too seriously because it doesn’t differentiate people’s education, work experiences, and professions, even though the study acknowledges these three factors alone can explain more than 70 percent of wage gaps among gender and race. Typically, these types of studies aim to generate attention-grabbing headlines that fit certain political narratives.
Yet despite all the data imperfection, one chart of this recent Pew study really stands out. Even though the headline still focuses on the usual political narrative that “White men out-earn black and Hispanic men and all groups of women,” I’d like readers to pay attention to Asian men’s earnings.
According to this chart, except for a short period in the 1990s, Asian men consistently out-earned all other racial groups, including white men. The latest data shows Asian men earned 117 percent as much as white men did. Similarly, Asian women out-earned all other racial groups. Since the popular political narrative insists U.S. social, political and economic systems are “dominated by whites” and “stacked against minorities,” what gives?
It’s Not Asian Privilege, That’s for Sure
Have Asians received special favorable treatment throughout the U.S. history that gave them a leg up? As I described in my new book, “The Broken Welcome Mat,” the answer is a resounding “No.” Let’s just take a quick stroll through the history.
One of the largest Asian immigrant populations came from China. Early Chinese immigrants came to the United States during the “gold rush” in the mid-nineteenth century. They were accused of stealing American jobs and driving down wages, and soon became “the constant victims of cruel harshness and brutal violence” (Frederick Douglass, 1869). For instance, 200 Chinese miners were robbed and four were murdered at Rich Gulch, California in 1852.
The government of California constantly used its legislative power against Chinese immigrants. In 1852, California demanded a special foreign miner tax from non-U.S.-citizen miners. Since Chinese immigrants were the largest non-citizen miner group, they bore most of the tax burden. This required paying $3 each month at a time when Chinese miners were making approximately $6 a month. Tax collectors could legally take and sell the property of miners who refused or could not pay the tax. Consequently, many Chinese immigrants were forced out of the mining industry and took on work in other fields.
Yet when the Central Pacific Railroad couldn’t find many willing Americans to take on the back-breaking and often dangerous work of building the transcontinental railroad, it turned to the group it knew it could depend on: Chinese immigrants. But as soon as the transcontinental railroad was completed, Chinese were referred to as the “Yellow Peril” and often the target of violence. Rather than prosecuting discriminatory acts and upholding our nation’s founding principle of “all men are created equal,” politicians supported popular anti-Chinese sentiment by passing the Page Act of 1875, a law based on false assumptions including that all Chinese men were “coolies”—involuntary indentured laborers. Thus, the Page Act included a provision to prohibit contracted labor from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country” that was not “free and voluntary.”
A few years after the Page Act, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The Act suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers (skilled or unskilled) for 10 years. It also required every Chinese person traveling in or out of the country to carry a certificate identifying his or her status as a laborer, scholar, diplomat, or merchant.
The 1882 act was the first immigration law that prevented immigration and naturalization based on race and nationality. It practically gave radical labor union members carte blanche to deal with the “Yellow Peril” with their own hands. The worst act against Chinese immigrants occurred on September 2, 1885, at Rock Springs, Wyoming. Rioters burned down 75 Chinese homes, murdered 28 Chinese miners, and injured a dozen more. This is known as the Rock Springs Massacre.
In 1888, Pennsylvania’s Rep. William Scott, a Democrat, introduced legislation to extend restrictions from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Scott Act excluded immigration of “all persons of the Chinese race” except “Chinese officials, teachers, students, merchants, or travelers for pleasure or curiosity.” The 1924 Immigration Act “excluded from entry anyone born in a geographically defined “Asiatic Barred Zone” except for Japanese and Filipinos.”
From Underdogs to Overachievers
The sentiment towards Chinese immigrants didn’t change until World War II, when China and the United States were allies. The 1943 Magnuson Act 1882 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and established an annual quota of 105 immigration visas for Chinese immigrants. Unfortunately, during the same period, another group of Asian immigrants, Japanese Americans, were forced to live in concentration camps solely because of their ancestry.
Asians had to wait until the Immigration Act of 1952 repealed the 1924 Immigration Act and allotted 100 visas to each Asian nation. Only at the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 did our nation begin to see large numbers of Asian immigrants. No special government social welfare programs targeted Asians. Programs such as affirmative action and racial quotas for college entrance instead created preferences against Asians.
So it is safe to say Asian immigrants didn’t get a leg up from any favorable treatment. Today, Asian Americans represent about 6 percent of the U.S. population. Compared to other minority groups, Asian Americans lack political representations. For example, there are 13 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently serving in the House of Representatives of the 114th Congress, compared to 46 African Americans and 34 Hispanic Americans.
But as Walter E. Williams wrote, “Political power is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for socio-economic progress.” What Asians lack in political power, they make up in economic power. According to a Pew research, when compared with all U.S. adults, Asian Americans as a whole exceed not just “in median annual household income ($66,000 versus $49,800), but also in median household wealth ($83,500 vs. $68,529).”
What contributed to Asian American’s impressive economic success? The same research credited three factors:
- Emphasis on education: “Educational attainment among Asian Americans is markedly higher than that of the U.S. population overall. Among those ages 25 and older, 49% hold at least a college degree, compared with 28% of the U.S. population overall.”
- Emphasis on marriage and family: “(Asian) newborns are less likely than all U.S. newborns to have an unmarried mother (16% vs. 41%); and their children are more likely than all U.S. children to be raised in a household with two married parents (80% vs. 63%).”
- Emphasis on work ethic: “Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) Asians say people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard.”
The research failed to mention another factor that distinguishes Asians: most Asians do not share the “us versus them” mentality. The majority of Asians do not demand that someone or some group be held responsible for their own happiness. Instead, they ask themselves, “What do I need to do to make my life better?” and then make it happen.
Not surprisingly, the political grievance industry ignores Asian Americans because they don’t fit the narrative. Maybe it’s time for Asians to become more politically active and point out the narrative is wrong, and even a liberal think tank’s data proves it.