The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted Friday to hold off on adoption of an extensive report showing that economic discrimination against Asian Americans has decreased, with some groups earning more than Caucasians.
Commission member Mary Frances Berry, expressing concern that the report might appear to downplay discrimination, said, "I'm trying to keep the job from being done on Asian Americans that has already been done on black men."Berry moved that adoption of the report, titled "The Economic Status of Americans of Asian Descent," be postponed until experts on Asian discrimination issues can review it.
The commission in 1986 released a similar report on the incomes of black men that said the gap between the earnings of black and white men had narrowed dramatically since the 1940s.
Berry said income is not the only measure of discrimination and there is a danger that when other Americans see how well Asian immigrants are doing financially, prejudice will increase.
Another commission member, Robert A. Destro, said the commission does not want to be in the position of saying to minorities: "See, everything is OK. You make a lot of money anyway."
Six of the seven commission members voted to postpone adoption of the 289-page report prepared by the commission staff until at least its next meeting in Los Angeles in September. The commission is an independent federal agency, with half its members board appointed by the president and half by Congress. One seat on the board is vacant.
The report says an analysis of census statistics, immigration records and other data show no evidence that the across-the-board discrimination that existed against Asians in 1960 exists in the 1980s.
"Adjusting for changing skills and characteristics, the earnings gap between Asian and non-Hispanic white men decreased dramatically between 1960 and 1980," says an executive summary included in the report. "This finding suggests that the economic progress of Asian men was aided by a decline in anti-Asian labor market discrimination."
The report, however, shows differences between Asian men and women, between Asian Americans born in the United States and recent immigrants, and among six ethnic groups examined: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Asian Indian, Korean and Vietnamese.
It looks at an Asian American population of 3.26 million, making up about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population.
The report says that native-born U.S. citizens of Japanese and Korean descent earn more than Caucasians, while those with Chinese heritage earn about the same and Filipinos and Indians earn less.
It says there is evidence that new immigrants from Asia initially earn less than similar non-Hispanic white immigrants but that after about 11 years in this country, they end up earning more.
Asian women, both immigrants and native-born, tend to earn more than white women, the report says, noting that more Asian American women work partly because the structure of their families - with many relatives often living together - enables other family members to take care of children.
Poverty rates for U.S.-born Chinese, Japanese and Korean families are lower than the general population, while poverty rates for Filipino and Indian families are higher, and Vietnamese immigrant families have substantially higher levels of poverty, according to the report.
James Cunningham, assistant staff director who oversaw the project, said the data raises several questions which would require further research, including the possibility of discrimination at higher levels of employment.
He said that Asians are overrep-resented in professional jobs but un-derrepresented in managerial positions. "We don't know whether this is by choice or because of discrimination," Cunningham said.