Pandemic exposes just how bad pay gap is for Asian American Pacific Islander women

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'Losses due to gender and racial wage gaps are devastating for AAPI women and their families,' one group warned. 'This pandemic threatens to deepen these inequities.'

March 9 marks the annual Asian American Pacific Islander Equal Pay Day, the date on which AAPI women finally catch up with white men in terms of the wage gap — a divide that has only exacerbated the issues weighing on them amid the pandemic.

A March report from the National Women's Law Center found that Asian American and Pacific Islander women as a larger group are still only paid 85 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

"This gap in pay, which typically amounts to a loss of $833 every month, $10,000 every year, and $400,000 over a 40-year career, means that AAPI women have to work more than 14 months to make as much as white, non-Hispanic men were paid in the previous calendar year alone," the report noted, adding that over the course of a 40-year career, AAPI women stand to lose $400,000.

And that stark divide has thrown a glaring light on the issues AAPI women are facing amid the pandemic.

As a group, AAPI women have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19's health and economic effects, all while trailing white men in terms of pay.

AAPI women are "overrepresented" in both the front-line essential work as well as occupations that have suffered massive pandemic-related job losses, the National Women's Law Center reported. AAPI women comprise 3.8% of frontline workers but make up only 2.9% of the overall workforce, while more than 1 in 4 AAPI women (26.6%) are considered frontline workers.

"The pandemic has exposed how the work performed primarily by women has long been and continues to be undervalued, even as the rest of the country is depending on it as never before," the organization said.

For example, for every dollar white men working as dental assistants make, AAPI women, who make up 4.8% of the industry, typically earn 72 cents.

Among hairdressers, AAPI women, who make up 4.8% of the industry, earn 71 cents to every white man's dollar. And the 3.6% of AAPI women who work as cashiers and retail workers in grocery stores make 89 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, among those working full-time and year-round, according to the law center.

Job losses during the pandemic have hurt AAPI women as well. As of January, nearly 8% of Asian women were unemployed, which is nearly triple their pre-pandemic unemployment rate in February 2020.

"Losses due to gender and racial wage gaps are devastating for AAPI women and their families, many of whom were struggling to make ends meet even before the current crisis," the center said. "This pandemic threatens to deepen these inequities."

A Center for American Progress report released in March similarly showed that Asian and Hispanic women had higher unemployment rates than their male counterparts as of January 2021, further demonstrating "that women of color continue to be left behind by the recovery," the group wrote.

The wage gap among AAPI women itself, of course, varies dramatically by subgroup.

East Asian and South Asian women fare far better than Southeast Asian women, though still lag behind white, non-Hispanic men, the Center for American Progress report noted. The largest gap among the subgroups were between Taiwanese, Indian, and Malaysian women who earn $1.21 to every white man's dollar, and Burmese women who make just $0.52 for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, according to a data analysis of 2015-2019 median earnings.

Other earnings variations between subgroups include Chinese women, earning $1.03 for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts; Japanese women making $0.95; Thai women earning $0.64; and Vietnamese women making $0.63 for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

"Neither they (AAPI women) nor their families can afford to wait for change during an unprecedented public health and economic crisis that has no end in sight," the National Women's Law Center said in a statement.

To combat the wage gaps, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum has launched an open call for petitions to push President Joe Biden to direct his Office of Management and Budget to "collect, analyze, and make public" data on each AAPI subgroup, in order to find a solution.

"The demographic group known as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) is made up of more than 50 ethnic subgroups that speak more than 100 languages. When we're lumped together and cast as the 'model minority,' a myth that we are all well off and don't need support, our struggles are made invisible and our needs erased," the petition read.

The calls for more "detailed" disaggregated data build on those by lawmakers from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who met with the Biden transition team in December to voice concerns among the AAPI communities.

Nikki Metzgar, communications director for the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, said in a phone interview that her organization was also working with a coalition of lawmakers to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, as well as pushing for the $15 federal minimum wage — legislation that Metzgar said could help address the problem.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would "strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, help eliminate the gender wage gap, and guarantee that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold employers accountable," according to a press release from Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who co-sponsored the legislation.

DeLauro said in a January statement, "Job loss resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, with women accounting for 100% of jobs lost in December. We must enact the Paycheck Fairness Act to both close the worsening pay gap and protect and empower women as they reenter the job force. This legislation is long overdue, but this is the Congress that it will finally be signed into law."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.