By Benjamin J. Spencer
A new report from a Chinatown nonprofit concludes that Asian-American communities in New York City have grown so fast over the past decade that their constituents no longer have adequate access to social services like health care and English-as-a-second-language programs.Asian Americans for Equality, a longtime booster of immigrant education and housing equality in the city, released the report Thursday. The research focused on nine neighborhoods throughout the city whose Asian-American populations totaled 25% or more. It found that although Asian-Americans represent over 12% of the metropolitan area’s population, Asian-American-led community groups receive only about 1% of the city’s social service contracts.“Asian-American communities have really grown beyond the traditional enclaves in New York”, said Douglas Nam Le, author of the report. “The question is, are they represented? Have the community boards kept up?”
Mr. Le said traditional Asian family structures favor economic cooperation among family members, and because of high rents and low wages, a large number of family members are often squeezed into the same house or apartment to cut costs. This distorts household income reports, he said. For his report, Mr. Le analyzed data from U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys, conducted monthly from 2005-2009.
“The way that these social service contracts are set up sometimes excludes certain ethnicities,” Mr. Le said. He added that in many of the city’s Asian-American families, “even though there’s relative parity in household income, per capita income is lower than the neighborhood average.”
Mr. Le said he hopes the results of the 2010 Census, to be released later this year, will help spur more affordable housing and better social service access for the emerging and rapidly shifting groups, who often must travel far from their own neighborhoods to Flushing, Queens, or Manhattan’s Chinatown to obtain needed services.
“We get a lot of calls from the outer boroughs, like Brooklyn,” said Vanessa Leung, deputy director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. Long travel times mean that “people probably are not going to seek preventative care from health clinics,” she said. “It’s an additional barrier, especially if they have to take time off work.”
The report also found many smaller Asian-American groups lacked access to English language instruction in their neighborhoods.
Kelly Magee, a spokeswoman for City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who co-founded Asian Americans for Equality back in 1974 and represents the Chinatown district, issued a statement saying that, without basic ESL programs, immigrant “access to social services, jobs, and engagement with the wider political arena is limited.”
“Furthermore, as the makeup of traditional immigrant neighborhoods evolve, it is important for long-term residents to have the capacity and organization to influence such changes, not be victimized or further isolated by them,” the statement said.
Deep cuts in city social services due to the economic downturn have only worsened the isolation, said Linda Lee, an executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York.
As one of the largest Korean-American social service groups in the city, the nonprofit runs an adult daycare center, two senior centers, a meals-on-wheels program and an ESL center. But Ms. Lee said a more than 30% cut in city funding last year led to a 100-person wait list for English language instruction.
“We try our best to accommodate the needs,” Ms. Lee said. “But it’s kind of difficult.”