Study highlights economic barriers for South Asians in Illinois

June 3, 2013

(Flickr/Shahrukh Hasan)
The 2011 Pakistan Day Parade in Chicago. A new study shows that Pakistanis and other South Asian groups in Illinois face barriers to opportunity despite higher education levels.

A new report shows that Illinois’s South Asian population is struggling to translate high levels of education into higher incomes. The study by the Chicago-based South Asian American Policy and Research Institute and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago looks at 2010 census numbers to fill out the picture of one of the state’s fastest-growing minorities.

“Although South Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans have the reputation of being highly educated and economically prosperous, that’s certainly true for one segment of our population,” said Ami Gandhi, Executive Director of SAAPRI. “But the data reminds us that overall our community is still facing barriers, as are all communities of color.”

The report finds that Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankans are more educated than the overall Illinois population, but they have a lower per-capita income. And within some of the South Asian groups, the rate of low income and poverty is sizeable. Forty-seven percent of Pakistani-Americans in the Chicago region fall within those categories.

“Sometimes Indian-Americans and South Asian Americans are depicted as the model minority, who’s a good immigrant group to have here in Chicago and in the United States,” said Gandhi, “and reports like this point out that ‘hey, we’re more complex than that.’ We have many successes in our community, and we celebrate those, but we also have community members in need.”

South Asians made up about 2 percent of Illinois’s population in the 2010 census, up 55 percent from a decade before. Gandhi says the growing minority needs to engage more actively in the political process to create solutions for their community.


Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.