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New UIC Report Details Barriers Facing Chicago’s Asian Americans

City’s Fastest Growing Racial/Ethnic Group Faces Challenges in Housing, Education & Labor

CHICAGO – Despite popular stereotypes that Asian Americans are a “model minority” unaffected by racial discrimination, a new report from University of Illinois at Chicago researchers details the barriers that Chicago’s Asian Americans face due to racial inequities in housing, education and labor.

The report, A Tale of Diversity, Disparity, and Discrimination: The State of Racial Justice for Asian American Chicagoans, also highlights major demographic changes in Chicago’s Asian American community, which is the city’s most diverse and fastest growing racial/ethnic group.

The report was developed by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy in partnership with UIC’s Great Cities Institute and with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Metropolitan Family Services, a leading human services agency, commissioned the work.

“The findings present multiple ways that the lives of Asian Americans in Chicago are deeply affected by racial inequity,” said William Scarborough, report co-author and research assistant at the institute. “As the size and influence of this community continues to grow, the report can help inform ongoing discussions on racial equity in the city.”

Key findings include:

Demographic Change

  • Between 2000 and 2010, Chicago’s Asian American population grew 16 percent, while the population of whites and blacks decreased, and the population of Latinos grew by 3.3 percent.
  • With a population of over 160,000, Chicago has the 7th largest Asian American population among major cities in the U.S.


  • Asian Americans, who reside primarily in Chicago’s Southwest and far Northside neighborhoods, are highly segregated from blacks and Latinos, and moderately segregated from whites.
  • Like other racial/ethnic groups in Chicago, Asian Americans tend to live around people of the same race as themselves, but they face significant difficulties in accessing home financing even when attempting to move to more diverse neighborhoods.
  • Asian Americans are less likely to be approved for home loans than whites, especially when those homes are in predominantly white neighborhoods.


  • Asian Americans are about equally as likely to have a college degree as whites, but they are twice as likely to have never graduated high school.
  • Educational attainment varies significantly by Asian American ethnicity. The majority of Indian and Korean Chicagoans have a college degree, while over one-fifth of Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian Chicagoans have less than a high school diploma.
  • Asian Americans receive lower financial returns for advanced educational degrees. Asian Americans with a college degree earn only $10 an hour more than Asian Americans whose highest level of education is less than high school. For whites, this return on education is $15.


  • After accounting for personal and work-related factors, Asian Americans are paid seven percent less than whites and this racial wage gap exceeds 20 percent in the industries of retail and transportation.
  • Asian Americans are 17 percent less likely than equally situated whites to work as a manager, and among college degree holders, they are 25 percent less likely than whites to work as a manager.

“By highlighting multiple challenges facing Asian Americans in Chicago, this report reveals yet another layer of racial inequity in the city, while also serving as a critical document to inform local policy that improves the lives of all Chicago residents.” said co-author Amanda Lewis, director of the institute and professor of African American studies and sociology.

“In shedding a light on the challenges Asian Americans face, this report provides an invaluable resource to inform not only Metropolitan Family Services, but also organizations across Chicagoland, in more effectively providing integrated services to strengthen a key community in our area,” says Ric Estrada, President and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services. “When we empower one community, we’re empowering our entire city.”

The report also features expert commentaries on various issues affecting Asian Americans in Chicago. These commentaries provide perspectives on Asian Americans’ experience in higher education, civic engagement in Asian American communities, health outcomes for Asian Americans, and the impact of public policy and activism on racial equity.

Reflecting on the implications of the report in his commentary, Mark Martell, Director of UIC’s Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, said, “This report gives voice to a historically overlooked racial group and provides direction for the overdue dialogue on the needs of Asian American communities,”

Commentary authors are Brandon Lee, communications and research coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago; Mark R. Martell, director of UIC’s Asian American Resource and Cultural Center; Mansha Mirza; UIC assistant professor of occupational therapy; and Kathleen Yang-Clayton, UIC clinical assistant professor of public administration.


Iván Arenas, associate director for community partnerships in the institute, is also a co-author on the new report that serves as a follow up to the 2017 report, “A Tale of Three Cities: The State of Racial Justice in Chicago,” which detailed the divergent conditions for blacks, Latinos and whites in the intersecting domains of housing, economics, education, justice and health.


Organizing partnering in the report are:

The Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago promotes and coordinates engaged research on racial and ethnic justice in the U.S. Our mission is to increase society’s understanding of the root causes of racial and ethnic inequality and to provide the public, organizers, practitioners, and policymakers with research-based policy solutions. To fulfill that mission, IRRPP funds research on race and ethnicity, trains scholars to participate in policy discussions, collaborates on social justice projects with community organizations, and holds events exploring the link between policy and racial and ethnic injustice.

The Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago links academic resources with a range of partners to address urban issues by providing research, policy analysis, and program development. Together with local scholars and community stakeholders, the institute provides research on critical problems facing cities, fosters opportunities for collaboration between community and research groups, and shares university resources and knowledge with the wider community.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. To work towards this mission, Advancing Justice | Chicago develops grassroots leaders, facilitates connections between communities, promotes voting awareness, and mobilizes for electoral campaigns. Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago is an affiliate of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Metropolitan Family Services empowers families to learn, to earn, to heal, to thrive. Part mentor, part motivator, part advocate, since 1857 Metropolitan Family Services has been the engine of change that empowers families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities. www.metrofamily.org



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