Closing The Gap

Some Asian American and Pacific Islander women stand to lose over $1 million in their lifetimes due to the pay gap

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May 3 marks Asian American and Pacific Island Women's Equal Pay Day, which signifies how far into the year AAPI women must work to catch up to what white men earned the previous year. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander women working full-time in the U.S. are typically paid $0.95 for every dollar paid to white men, according to the National Women's Law Center. But Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC's director of research, tells CNBC Make It that the $0.95 number doesn't reflect the true wage gap given the "massive shedding of low-paying jobs" in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

The NWLC calculated the wage gap between AAPI women and white men, regardless of how many hours they worked, to more accurately capture the setbacks and job losses AAPI women in part-time or seasonal roles faced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and found that AAPI women earned just 75 cents, on average, for every dollar paid to a white man in 2020.

AAPI women are overrepresented in front-line and low-wage jobs, making up about 3.8% of the front-line workforce despite making up only 2.9% of the overall workforce, with many of these women getting paid less than their white, male counterparts in the same occupations, according to the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

On top of this ongoing pay gap, AAPI women are continuing to face a rise in racialized violence and harassment as a result of the racist rhetoric and xenophobia surrounding the Covid-19 virus. 

The racism and harassment AAPI women are threatened with in the workplace is, as with other women of color, "holding them back from reaching equal pay, and, without feeling safe or supported, achieving their full potential at work," Tucker notes. 

It's also important to note that the pay gap varies widely among women of different AAPI communities.

AAPI women working full-time, year-round stand to lose $120,000 over the course of a 40-year career, the NWLC found, but women of different AAPI communities experience much steeper wage losses over time: On average, Burmese women lose $1.2 million, Nepalese women lose over $1.1 million, and Hmong and Cambodian women lose close to $1 million dollars to the wage gap in their lifetimes. 

"Some AAPI women come from countries where women don't have access to higher education, which denies them access to higher-paid jobs, or they can only afford to live in certain regions in the U.S. with limited access to higher-paid jobs," Tucker explains. As a result, she adds, many AAPI women are pushed into lower-paid jobs in the retail, restaurant, and personal care industries – fields that were hit the hardest by pandemic job losses.

At its peak, the unemployment rate for Asian women aged 20 and older reached 16.4% in May 2020, the NAPAWF reports. According to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has dropped to 2.6%. 

Some AAPI women, however, are still losing income: A recent NWLC poll of AAPI women who lost a job in the pandemic found that less than half  (47%) of women have gotten a new job.  

The ongoing pandemic doesn't just threaten to widen the wage gap AAPI women face – it impacts their families' financial well-being, too. 

Yvonne Hsu, the chief policy and government affairs officer at the NAPAWF, said in a statement that there are millions of Asian American mothers living in multigenerational households who are "shouldering the brunt of caregiving not just for their children, but for elderly parents and extended family members too. 

She continued: "More often than not, they're also the breadwinners … and to make up for lost wages, AANHPI women have no choice but to work longer hours and multiple jobs which often don't provide paid medical or family leave. These are women who will never 'catch up' to their white male counterparts."

Check out:

AAPI women have the smallest pay gap—but that stat 'masks' big economic disparities, say experts

How the pandemic made the pay gap worse for low-wage workers and women of color

How the model minority myth holds Asian Americans back at work—and what companies should do

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