Barriers to Equal Pay for AANHPI Women

Joshua Tobing and Jessica Mason

Today is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Equal Pay Day — the day of the year which marks the point up to which AANHPI women have to work in order to be paid the same amount as men were in the previous year. Each year, equal pay days across demographic groups play an important role in demonstrating how — despite the progress that has been made in recent years — wage gaps between men and women persist. On days like today, acknowledging the unique wage gap between white men and AANHPI women is more important than ever, and forces us to take a closer look at the many myths and barriers in the way of achieving pay equity for AANHPI women in particular.

Before we dig any further, it’s important to note that the AANHPI umbrella is huge. The term AANHPI, while important for advancing representation and political power for numerous deeply underrepresented minority groups, encompasses more than 50 ethnic groups, each of which is impacted by a unique set of histories and policies that lead to the wide variation in the struggles and subsequent outcomes we see facing different subsets of the AANHPI population today. That’s why now it is more important than ever to push for a continued disaggregation of data that shows the full picture of the unique challenges faced by AANHPI women and supports the case for targeted policy and community-based solutions to the continuing unequal outcomes.

This year, AANHPI Equal Pay Day falls later in the year than in past years. That’s because for the first time, our data is inclusive of part-time and seasonal workers, as well as those who spent part of the year laid off or unable to work due to health or caregiving needs. When the conversation only focuses on those in full-time, year-round jobs, the needs and experiences of the country’s lowest paid women — including migrant and gig workers in precarious or unpredictable employment — are left behind.

So why is the wage gap so bad for AANHPI women? Well, AANHPI women are overrepresented in essential jobs, including as child care workers, home health care providers, and retail workers. But the ways that racism and sexism have structured our economy mean that essential jobs, particularly in the care economy, are devalued and underpaid.

Further, the pandemic disproportionately affected AANHPI women’s health and careers. Asian American women experienced some of the largest declines in full-time employment in 2020. And while the economy is recovering quickly, AAPI women have had particularly high rates of long-term unemployment, which may continue to impact their careers and their households’ financial stability for years to come.

Meanwhile, harassment and discrimination persistently contribute to the wage gap by not only leading to direct paycheck discrimination, but also by limiting career advancement, pushing women out of certain occupations and industries, and harming womens mental and physical health. Nearly three-quarters of AANHPI women report experiencing racism or discrimination just in the past year, and almost four in ten report experiencing sexual harassment.

The good news is there are multiple federal solutions working their way through Congress right now — each of which would bring real and lasting change that would help pave the way toward eliminating the wage gap once and for all. From diminishing wage disparities due to gender-based occupational segregation, to raising the minimum wage altogether, to investing in our care infrastructure so that child care and paid leave are accessible to all working families, there has never been a greater opportunity to push for robust policy changes that will not only uplift AANHPI women but all workers and their families.

Advocates aren’t waiting on Congress to make change in their own communities. Two states — Maryland and Delaware — passed their own paid leave programs just this spring. And the once-in-a-generation infusions of federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law offer state and local governments a chance to invest in solutions like higher pay for child care and other frontline workers.

You can make a difference in this work. Learn more about the gender wage gap. Follow us to learn more about how the National Partnership and our coalition partners are working to advance laws at the state and federal level. Learn about equal pay laws that may be moving in your state and most importantly stay informed about how your representatives are voting on laws essential to finally making the gender wage gap a thing of the past.

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