AAPIs Need to be Part of the Equal Pay Conversation

A protest sign demanding equal pay. (Photo credit: Steve Rappaport / Creative Commons)

Today is AAPI Equal Pay Day, the day in 2020 when an Asian American or Pacific Islander woman would — on average — finally earn as much money as a typical white man if both worked through all of 2019.

In the aggregate, AAPI women make about 90 cents to the dollar of white men, a statistic that is both troubling and that still overlooks disaggregated data showing an even starker gender wage gap for many AAPI ethnic subgroups. Many Southeast Asian American and Pacific Islander women, for example, earn less than 70 cents to the dollar a white man earns, but this fact is lost when only aggregated income statistics about the AAPI community are reported.

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What we’re not talking about when we talk about equal pay

Screen capture of video for AAPI Equal Pay Day from 2017. (Photo credit: NAPAWF)

By Guest Contributor: Sung Yeon Choimorrow (Executive Director, NAPAWF)

The gender pay gap is the difference between what men and women earn for doing the same work, and it varies for different sub-groups of women. In 2019, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women earned 90 cents for every dollar that white, non-Hispanic men made. Today marks the symbolic day in 2020 when we “catch up” to white men’s earnings from the previous year. The wage gap exists in every state and every occupation, regardless of education—but there’s so much more to the story hidden by the averages. 

The term AAPI includes more than 50 ethnic subgroups, some of which experience much wider pay gaps. Vietnamese American women, for example, made 67 cents for every dollar white men made last year and Cambodian American women made 57 cents. These women will have to work for several more months for their paychecks to catch up while the lost wages compound. 

Asian Americans have long been depicted as “model minorities” in this country. It’s a persistent myth that all Asians are the same and we’re all high-achieving with stable incomes. By failing to recognize our lived experiences, the myth makes it easier to dismiss our struggles and reinforces the misconception that Asian people don’t need resources or support. 

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