Business Times - 03 Apr 2012
Latest example of a success story
Korea-born doctor's nomination as World Bank chief highlights Asian-Americans' contributions in various fields in the US
By LEON HADAR
THE unexpected nomination of Jim Yong Kim as the next president of the World Bank has been hailed as a welcome departure by the White House from the tradition of appointing professional economists or American political figures to the prestigious position.
Dr Kim is neither an economist nor a politician, but a medical doctor and an anthropologist who is clearly qualified for the job of managing the world's leading development organisation.
A former head of the World Health Organization's HIV/Aids department, Dr Kim will be able to utilise his experience in providing healthcare to developing countries as he tries to promote new thinking on development work in poor countries.
And Dr Kim, who was born in Seoul in 1959 and moved with his family to the United States when he was a child, who was educated at Harvard and who has served as president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for several years, is also the most recent example of the success story of the rising Asian-American community.
Comprising around 5 per cent of the American population (about 15 million) - and considered to be the fastest-growing immigrant group in the US - Asian-Americans have been making extraordinary contributions to their adopted country in science and technology (in 2009, two Asia-Americans were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry) as well as in education, arts and entertainment, and are now occupying leading positions in business and public life and of course in sports, as demonstrated by the continuing media fascination with basketball player Jeremy Lin.
It may be considered a stereotype, but based on overwhelming evidence of their high household income (and low incarceration rate) and educational and professional achievements by comparison to other minorities and the declining white majority, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that Asian-Americans are, indeed, a 'model minority'.
Hence, the large majority of Americans of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent between the ages of 20-21 are in college (compared to about a third of whites in the same age).
In California, for example, the majority of undergraduate schools in prestigious public universities such as UC Berkeley are Asian-Americans.
Indeed, according to the available statistics, nearly three out of five employed Asian-Americans aged 25 and above have earned a bachelor's degree or higher; this is 60 per cent greater than whites and more than double and triple the proportions of blacks and Hispanics, respectively.
And the high education rates among Asian-Americans translate also into higher rates of income. Hence, the median income for Asian-American households is around US$70,000 compared with US$52,000 for all households.
It's not surprising that a study issued by the US Department of Labor in 2011 pointed out that one reason the median wages are higher for Asian-Americans is a much larger number of Asian-Americans are college graduates: 57.5 per cent of employed Asian-Americans who are 25 or older have a degree. This proportion is 60 per cent higher than among whites, and more than twice that of blacks.
The study, The Asian-American Labor Force in the Recovery, provided some interesting data on the relative success with which Asian-Americans have adjusted to the recent economic recession.
The study noted that Asian-Americans have the lowest unemployment rate compared with other groups.
In 2007, the year in which the recession started, the unemployment rate for Asian-Americans was 3.2 per cent which was lower than the figure of 4.1 per cent among whites, 5.6 per cent among Hispanics and 8.3 per cent among blacks.
Three years into the recession in 2010, the Asian-American unemployment rate averaged 7.5 per cent (and has been falling since then), with the lowest unemployment rate among Japanese-Americans (4.6 per cent), Korean-Americans (6.4 per cent), Chinese-Americans (6.5 per cent) and Indian-Americans (6.6 per cent).
In comparison, unemployment rates were 8.7, 12.5 and 16 per cent for whites, Hispanics and blacks, respectively.
The study also found that Asian-Americans are more likely than either whites or blacks to be employed in the private sector, with more than 8 to 10 per cent of employed Asian-Americans working for private companies.
At the same time, according to the most recent survey of business owners, the number of Asian-owned businesses expanded at the rate of 40.4 per cent, a rate that more than doubled the national average between 2002 and 2007.
Similarly, the median wage of Asian-Americans is higher than any other racial group. Half of Asian-Americans working full-time earned US$855 per week in 2010. This median weekly wage exceeds that earned by whites by nearly 12 per cent for every dollar.
In fact, Asian-Americans' median weekly earnings have been greater than those earned by whites during the last decade; the difference reached a high of 16 per cent in 2008 and 2009 before declining in 2010.
The Labor Department study concluded that with the economic recovery accelerating, the professional, scientific and technical industry is expected to grow the that fastest, and that is clearly good news for Asian-Americans.
Indeed, in 2012, 7.8 per cent of jobs in this high-growth industry went to Asian-American workers, making them well-represented there compared with their overall representations in the labour force (5 per cent).
Asian-Americans are similarly well represented in science, technology, engineering and math (Stem) occupations, accounting for more than 9 per cent of jobs there.
Asian-Americans occupy more than 16 per cent of the jobs in math and science-related occupations, such as computer and mathematical occupations, 11 per cent of the jobs in life, physical and social science occupations, and 9 per cent of the jobs in architecture and engineering occupations.
Overall, Asian-Americans are expected to be in a strong position to see a major growth in their representations in the good and high-wage professions of the future in the US.
Much has been said and written about the reasons for the Asian-American success story, with most explanation centring on the value that Asian-Americans attach to family, tradition and education, the kind of traits that helped American Jews in the past to make major contributions in science, technology, education and the arts.
More recently, a book written by Asian-American academic Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which purported to explain 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior' in raising children, with her emphasis placed traditional, strict 'Chinese' upbringing, has helped ignite public debate on whether American education should adopt some of the methods that prove to be successful in encouraging Asian-American children to excel in school.
Whatever the reasons for this Asian-American success story, it should come good news not only to members of this community but to all Americans who have been expressing growing concerns in recent years about the erosion in the nation's educational standards and in its ability to maintain its global economic competitive age vis-a -vis the emerging markets of China, India, Korea and the rest of Asia.
Ironically, the immigrants arriving to America from these same countries are going to serve as a powerful engine for a new American scientific, technological and economic renaissance in this new Pacific Century.
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