Asian Americans, who make up about 5 percent of the population, earned a slightly higher share of total income — less than a percentage point more. But blacks and Hispanics, the two largest minority groups, earned considerably less than a proportionate share.
Hispanics, who account for 16 percent of the U.S. population, earned 9 percent of total income, up from about 8 percent in mid-
decade. And African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the population, earned 8 percent of total income, a slight increase.
The Sentier study of income data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey adds another dimension to the studies of wealth and income made during a period of shifting demographics and economic uncertainty.
The country is on its way to becoming a majority-minority nation within three decades. Non-Hispanic whites make up a smaller percentage with every passing year, and Hispanic and Asian populations are growing at great speed.
In a report last fall, the Census Bureau said income inequality had increased during the recession, with higher-percentage declines among middle- and low-income households than among the richest households.
The Pew Research Center found a widening gap between the wealth accumulated by non-Hispanic white households and the assets of black and Hispanic households, which took the biggest hits from the bursting housing bubble and rising unemployment during the recession.
The 2008-10 income data may actually temper concerns about the recession’s long-term impact, particularly on minorities. Some academics have warned that the steep loss in home equity could prevent some families from borrowing money to send their children to college, hurting the lifetime earnings of future generations.
“This suggests that the income gap is not exploding the way the wealth gap was,” said Roderick Harrison, a fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and a former head of the Census Bureau’s racial statistics branch. “It’s in fact declining with population size, though clearly not as rapidly.”
For the time being, the country is broadly divided between the relative prosperity enjoyed by many non-Hispanic whites and Asians and the economic difficulties experienced by many African Americans and Hispanics.
Many factors are responsible for the gap.
Non-Hispanic whites and Asians have generally higher education levels and are more likely to be part of households in which two adults hold well-paying jobs. A sizable number also hold advanced degrees in scientific and technical fields that pay high salaries; African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have degrees in the social sciences and humanities.