Money Smart Week

UIAAAN President Ning Zulauf reflects on Asian Americans and money, as we approach Money Smart Week, April 23-30, 2016

As a young professional, one of the many financial challenges I have faced has been how to balance my entry-level job paycheck and lifestyle and, at the same time, try to save for the future. Especially after seeing Allie Conti's article “How to Save Money When you are Young, Dumb and Broke” over and over again on my Facebook timeline, I started thinking again about the “model minority” issue and what resources are available to help those facing financial challenges in the U.S. Through my volunteer experience as a Money Mentor at the U. of I. Extension Office, I learned about this great personal financial education resource: Money Smart Week, an unbiased national annual campaign created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in 2002. In 2016, Money Smart Week is scheduled for April 23rd through 30th.

In the process of researching this article, I was confused about how to apply the information in the reports to myself as an Asian-born first generation American immigrant. The most visible information is: Asian Americans have the highest median household income, on average, compared to white, Hispanic and African-American families. In his article “Asians Make it Big in America” at Bloomberg View, Sunstein indicated education is the key to making Asian Americans experience the highest increase, 32%, in median wealth compared to white, Hispanic and African-American families between 1989 to 2013. It seems Asian Americans are doing great, as a whole, in the eyes of people who have little knowledge about who “Asians” are. According to the White House’s report of Critical Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a group with “over 30 countries and ethnic groups that speak over 100 different languages”. Some people might argue that those data are from 2008 and are therefore out of date. Indeed, the data might be, but, unfortunately, the situation has not changed much based on “For Asian Americans, Wealth Stereotypes Don’t Fit Reality”
at NBC News by Seth Freed Wessler. Undeniably, there are some AAPI who are doing better than others. “About half of all Asian-American income goes to the top 20 percent of Asian-American earners. The bottom 40 percent of Asian-American earners, meanwhile, take home just 13 percent of the income pot,” writes Wessler, according to analysis of census data released by Karthick Ramakrishnan, PhD, a political scientist at UC Riverside.

I asked myself, “Who are the top 20 percent and the bottom 40 percent?” Based on the report Asian Immigrants in the United States from Migration Information Source by Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, those from China, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines may comprise the top, while immigrants from Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia may be at the bottom. According to them: “Asian immigrants have significantly higher incomes than the total foreign-and U.S.-born populations. In 2014, the median income of households headed by an Asian immigrant was $70,000, compared to $49,000 and $55,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. Households headed by Indian ($105,000), Taiwanese ($91,000), Filipino ($82,000), and Malaysian ($80,000) immigrants had the highest median income among all Asian immigrant groups, while Saudi ($22,000), Iraqi ($27,000), and Burmese ($38,000) households had the lowest median incomes.” But again, wealth and poverty coexist in Asian immigrants.

Through my brief research, I realized that I am in the same boat with the “bottom” 80% of AAPI making a living (not the top 20% most wealthy). I also realized I should appreciate the educational opportunities my family offered me. I hope people can keep in mind that, not only does “Asian” represent more than 48 ethnic groups, according to NBC News, but also every individual has his or her challenges regardless of race or age. Therefore, I hope people can be more open-minded rather than jump to conclusions from limited information from the media. The numbers only tell part of the story. We need to think about where the people are coming from, what brought them here and where they are now. For example, the costs of living are different between metropolitan areas or more rural areas, and the circumstances bringing people to the United States between skilled migrants and refugees are certainly different.

In conclusion, I feel that, no matter what race and which generation we are, we and our ancestors believe the United States offers more opportunities for a greater life than the countries we came from. So, going back to personal financial education for Money Smart Week of 2016, I would like to highlight some resources from Money Smart Week or articles that are informative or interesting to me and I hope you will also enjoy:

* Looking for local Money Smart Week resources and events near you?
* I am a young adult and thinking about saving
* Got debt? Check if you have these 10 bad financial habits
* Can you pre-pay for college, besides just save, save and save?
* Why Asians save and earn more
* On the other hand: why NOT to pay off student loans sooner

Additional Reading:
The Racial Wealth Gap: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
The rise of Asian Americans
American Debt - 2016 report

1. “How to Save Money When you are Young, Dumb and Broke” ( by Allie Conti
2. U of I Extension
3. Money Smart Week
4.  “Asians Make it Big in America” at Bloomberg View ( ) by Cass R. Sunstein
5. Critical Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (
6. “For Asian Americans, Wealth Stereotypes Don’t Fit Reality”
( at NBC News by Seth Freed Wessler
7. Asian Immigrants in the United States ( and Poverty) from Migration Information Source by Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova
8. NBC News (