Burmese Americans

The Burmese American community in numbers

The size of the Burmese American community has given it greater clout in recent years. Because of its growing numbers, since the 2010 Census, “Burmese” has been separately measured as an ethnicity. So it was quite exciting for me to get in and dissect a wealth of data on what the Burmese American community looks like, in terms of income, age, education, and poverty.

For more on my series about Burmese Americans, click on the “Burmese Americans” tag.

Characteristics of Burmese Americans

For all intents and purposes, this is what the Burmese American community looks like:

Characteristics of Burmese Americans:
Foreign born 84.0%
U.S. citizen 33.2%
Median age (years) 27.0
Married 59.3%
Less than a high school diploma 47.1%
Bachelor’s degree or higher 27.6%
Speaks English less than “very well” 70.2%
Median household income $35,952
Living in poverty 39.6%
Homeownership rate 31.0%
No health insurance 21.5%

In a sense, the less than stellar state of the Burmese American community presents an opportunity for the Burmese government, with its ongoing efforts to attract overseas Burmese to return to Burma (e.g. its permanent residency scheme for former citizens) and assist in nation-building efforts. The economic indicators of the Burmese American community are well below the national averages, and the poverty rate is over 3x the national average.

A Detailed Look

Age Distribution

The Burmese American population is more youthful than the Asian American community as a whole, with 24% between the ages of 5-17 (as compared to 18% for Asian Americans, 17.1% for Americans).

Median Age

The average Burmese American is 6.6 years younger than the average Asian American, and over a decade younger than the average American.

Sex Distribution

The Burmese American population is slightly tilted toward males, who constitute 51% of the Burmese American community–unlike the general population, which is majority female.

Marital Status

Burmese Americans have a slightly higher marriage rate as compared to Asian Americans and Americans in general, with 59.3% currently married.

Place of Birth

Place of Birth

Over 8 in 10 Burmese Americans are foreign-born, as compared to 1 in 10 for the U.S. population, but in line with the Asian American population’s foreign born majority.

Citizenship Status

A whopping 66.8% of Burmese Americans are not U.S. citizens, which raises the question of how many are still Burmese citizens and how many are undocumented.

Language

Language spoken at Home

Almost 91.2% of Burmese Americans speak a language other than English at home. This is a higher percentage than that of the Asian American population–and Burmese Americans are over 2x more likely to report speaking English less than “very well” than the national average for Asian Americans.

Educational Attainment

Educational Attainment

Surprisingly, while these is a large contingent of Burmese American professionals such as physicians and engineers, 47.1% of Burmese Americans did not complete high school. 52.9% completed high school, compared to 86.1% of Asian Americans, and 86.2% of Americans. 27.6% of Burmese Americans have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 49.7% of Asian Americans, and 29.1% of Americans.

Economic Wellbeing

Annual Income

The median household income for Burmese Americans is a paltry $35,952, 45% less than the median income for American households. Their median household income is almost 1/2 that of the Asian American community. This is quite surprising, given that 3 in 10 Burmese Americans live in California and New York, both of which have notoriously high costs of living.

Employment Status

Surprisingly, Burmese Americans have employment rates on parity with the U.S. population in general, and a lower unemployment than the general American population. However, both employment and unemployment rates are lower than the averages for Asian Americans.

Occupation

Burmese Americans are 3x more likely than the average American, to work in the production, transportation and material moving lines (e.g., assembly line and factory jobs). They are also half as likely as Asian Americans in general, to work in management, business, science and arts industries, which tend to earn higher salaries.

Health Insurance Coverage

21.5% of Burmese Americans are uninsured, as compared to 14.8% of Americans in general. Moreover, 46% are covered through public health insurance (access to public healthcare programs like Medicaid), which is correlated with greater poverty levels.

Poverty Rates

With a 35.3% poverty rate (family), Burmese Americans have a poverty rate almost 4x the rate of Asian American community, and over 3 times that of the general U.S. population.

References

I obtained data from the 2011-2013 American Community Survey (ACS) 3-Year Estimates [survey available here] – Table S0201: SELECTED POPULATION PROFILE IN THE UNITED STATE, using the following census codes: Burmese alone or in any combination (404) & (100-299) or (300, A01-Z99) or (400-999). I downloaded the data from the US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder.

According to the Census Bureau’s website, the American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year — giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year. The ACS measures many more detailed metrics than the Census, including socioeconomic factors such as access to health insurance, education levels, English-speaking ability, etc.

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