Unfinished Business

AAPI Women Need and Deserve Equal Pay

By Katherine Lemus, administrative assistant for field and policy, and Simran Virdi, a spring 2018 Education Fund intern

Today, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women on average earn only 87 cents for every dollar White men earn. To earn as much as White men make in one year, AAPI women must work nearly 14 months – so today we mark the end of this 14-month cycle on AAPI Equal Pay Day.

The AAPI community’s collective success has led them to be labeled by many as the “model minority.” This community, currently the fastest growing demographic in the United States, is considered successful based on aggregated data that show higher median incomes and educational attainment over other racial and ethnic groups, including Whites. This myth, rather than being helpful, puts many people in the AAPI community at a disadvantage because their needs are neglected. The lack of equal pay for AAPI women is just one example of how this myth downplays the discrimination and challenges the AAPI community faces.

Analysis of disaggregated data dispels the idea that all members of the AAPI community have equal access to economic opportunities. In fact, when disaggregated by ethnicity, many Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander women have some of the highest wage gaps compared to any other racial and ethnic group. In addition, the income gap increases as women get older. According to the combined data, women aged 45-64 make 73 cents and those 65+ make only 51 cents for each dollar earned by White men. This causes many AAPI women to lose out on pay when they need additional resources most.

Even those who have greater access to education face income inequality. An AAPI woman who has earned a master’s degree or higher is paid about the same as a White man with a bachelor’s degree – and women at lower education levels experience even higher wage gaps. One of the challenges that AAPI women face is that they are overrepresented in the most poorly paid jobs, with their share of the very low-wage and low-wage workforce being 2.7 times larger than their share of the overall workforce. More than one in five employed AAPI women work in service occupations, including food preparation, waitressing, dishwashing, housekeeping, childcare, and personal aid. These occupations are considered “female-dominated” and are therefore undervalued and underpaid.

The “model minority” myth has often led to the absence of the AAPI community, especially women, from conversations about economic insecurity within and outside of their community. Unequal pay negatively impacts AAPI women already struggling to pay for rent, groceries, health expenses, and other basic human necessities.

AAPI stories of economic insecurity need to be heard. More importantly, their work merits fair compensation. It’s 2018: Equal pay is something all working people need and deserve.


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