Emergency chute needed, even for Asian Americans


Where’s the Flip Cam when you need it? Imagine this scene: 78-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sliding down an emergency chute as she evacuates a troubled jet at D.C.’s Dulles Airport.

On her way down, do you think she said, “Weeeeeeeee….”?

We need something like that chute to escape our horrible economy.

And “we” is the operative pronoun. Not “me.”

The president’s jobs plan comes closest to accomplishing that, a $447 billion dollar measure that still doesn’t seem like enough.

But the Republicans, fueled by Tea Party rhetoric, seem more worried about saving a dime before saving you.

If I understand the message the Republicans have been sending in their debates the last few weeks, if they win, you better have your own damn emergency chute. Whether it’s health care, a job, or retirement nest egg, the Tea Party sadists aren’t paying for anyone’s safety net.

Just their own.

The 2010 poverty and income numbers released by the Census Bureau this week are just one reminder how dire the situation is.

Sure, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., an African American singer from Logan County, West Virginia, just won a million dollars on America’s Got Talent.

But a rising Landau, just like a risen Oprah, isn’t going to change the bad poverty and income stats.

Americans got talent. Just not a whole lot of money.

The median household income declined ($49,445, down 2.3 percent).

The poverty rate increased (15.1 percent, up .8 percent).

That leaves 46.2 million in poverty (up from 43.6 million in 2009). It’s the fourth consecutive increase and the largest number ever recorded in the 52 years poverty estimates have been published.

And since we’re all only one illness away from financial despair, the Census Bureau throws in a bonus stat: numbers of people without health insurance.

The percentage stayed the same: 16.3 percent. But we’re still talking about 50 million people without coverage.

If you’re in that crowd, make sure you remember Ron Paul’s debate answer the other night on whether medical care should be provided to an uninsured 30-year-old man who lapsed into a coma.

His answer wasn’t a resounding and humanistic “Yes.”

In fact, it was less than yes.

Paul said, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks.” When moderator Wolf Blitzer asked, “Are you saying that society should just let him die?”, audience members cheered and laughed.

The GOP cares? Not for you.

Asian Americans aren’t immune from being among the 50 million uninsured. In fact, we are the only minority group where the number rose by 284,000, bringing the total to 2.6 million Asian Americans without health care–that’s up 1.6 percent.

A cousin of mine was in that group. This year she suffered a stroke at age 40. Fortunately, there was Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid plan). But if the Tea-goppers have their way, there’d be little hope.

All told, this week’s numbers reveal a vanishing American Middle Class.

Harvard economics professor Lawrence Katz told the New York Times it was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period.

I know the long periods of which he speaks. I’ve also had personal experience with poverty and am proud to say I was on the free lunch program growing up in the ’60s. No stigma there. The school cafeteria socialized me and gave me my first taste of mashed potatoes when I was eight. How else was I going to get anything to eat but rice?

In one generation, my immigrant parents took us into the middle class and there we’ve stayed. But the last ten years have shown us all the economy and our fortunes don’t just keep going up.

Last year 2.6 million people fell below the poverty line (defined as $22,314 for a family of four).

As the middle class steadily shrinks, the bottom grows.

The median household income for the bottom tenth of income earners fell by 12 percent from a peak in 1999, while the top 90th percentile dropped by just 1.5 percent.

But the median income stat does bring us to one bright spot for Asian Americans.

Ever since Census 2000, Asian Americans have had the highest median household income at $64,308.

This year it’s down 3.4 percent from $66,550, but it’s still at the top.

And there’s still a wide gap between us and whites, who fall to $54, 620. We’re more successful than whites? At least by the numbers, and the spread grows compared to Hispanics ($37,759), and Blacks ($32,068).

Only a card-carrying Tiger Mom would want to boast about those numbers with glee.

But I’d suspect Tiger Moms across the country are bemoaning another set of stats released this week. The average SAT scores for the class of 2011 dropped to their lowest levels ever. (Reading-497/800; Writing-489/800; Math- 514/800)

You mean we Asian Americans can’t singlehandedly keep the average up?

No more violin lessons!

Still, by median income stats, we should be able to afford them.


Instead of allowing people to bait the model minority hook, we should remind folks how stats can obscure as well as illuminate the truth.

Asian Americans benefited from having a higher household size (2.98 to 2.58).

We also have more earners per household (1.5 to 1.29).

Add to that the Asian immigrants who’ve come in the last 20 years, and being No.1 in median income belies the existence of people like Trong (name changed to protect his privacy).

He was unemployed for two years until he got a job four months ago at Solyndra. (Yes, that Solyndra.) Trong may have indirectly benefited from the $550 million government loan that’s now the talk of D.C. The company was able to create his job. But it didn’t last. Trong, along with 1,100 people, was laid off when the company declared bankruptcy recently. Now he’s struggling again.

Model Minority? Trong says he sees a lot of people like him among his friends. After arriving from Vietnam in the 90s, he used the community colleges to gain skills and had steady work until the last three years. Now he wonders how he’s going to keep his family from going under.
Being No.1 in median income stats doesn’t help you find Trong and his friends.

They are the truth you don’t see.

They’re also another reminder how we all could use an emergency chute right now.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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