On AAPI representation, understanding the wealth gap, and how the model minority hurts us

A response to The Center for American Progress's article "Race and Beyond: Confronting the Racial Pay Gap."

As the conversations around racial and economic justice heightens, a focus on the impact of gender on existing wealth gaps should also be closely examined. However, when conversations begin to consider the impact of gender on the current wealth gap between men and women, many studies have demonstrated a clear disparity regarding the experiences of women of color.
Specifically for Asian American (AA) workers, the most recent study done by the National Women’s Law Center shows that AA women make $.84 for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man gets paid — an amount that has increased from $.69 in the last 50 years. By solely looking at this data, it is easy to conclude that on average AA women make more than white women ($.75) and other women of color — African American women ($.60); Native American women ($.57); Latinas ($.55).
The problem that arises from existing data on Asian American women workers is that without data disaggregation, it becomes a challenge to fully understand the disparities and community needs within Asian subgroups. This is especially true for Southeast Asians and Pacific Islander communities — communities whose needs have been ignored largely as a result of the “model minority” myth.
There are serious problems with the model minority myth. First, it is important to recognize that the histories of the model minority myth is rooted in anti-Blackness and has been used as tool to advance white supremacy by deeming Asian minorities as “model” citizens but Black/Brown minorities as “problem” citizens. Equally important to the problems with the model minority myth is how it completely dismisses the needs and services of various Asian American and Pacific Islander communities by lumping the diverse histories and experiences of all Asians into one homogenized identity. As a result, without disaggregated data, the narratives of the communities not as widely represented are lost in the conversations centered on racial and economic justice.
For example, while the data released by the National Women’s Center show that AA women make $.84 for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes, when we disaggregate the data we will find that women of Vietnamese descent actually makes less on average at $.64 for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes. Furthermore, our partners at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum found that Bhutanese, Marshallese and Burmese women experience the worst wage gaps as compared to all other ethnicities cross almost all ethnicities and more than half-a-million AAPI women live below the poverty line, with many more teetering on the edge.
As APALA continues in our mission to expand support and advocacy work for Asian American and Pacific Islander workers, we are calling on others to pay attention to the diverse needs of AAPI workers. We need disaggregated data to tell the full story and to develop a better understanding surrounding the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander women in the workforce.