Story at a glance

  • Minority communities, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, were disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic recession.
  • Recent analysis finds that AAPI women have experienced the highest rates of long-term unemployment during the pandemic.
  • At the same time, a surge in hate crimes against the AAPI community disproportionately targeted women.

Almost half of all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women who lost their jobs last year have been out of work for longer than six months, according to recent figures, and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is calling for action, including addressing the wage gap. 

"Removing the barriers to active participation in the workforce, especially for immigrant women and communities of color, is crucial to ensuring that AAPI women have the autonomy to make critical decisions about if or when to become a parent and provide for our families so that we can truly thrive," said NAPAWF in a brief. "Long-term unemployment does not just affect our community financially, but also has far-reaching consequences which include robbing AAPI women of their agency to do what is best for themselves and their families."


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Immigration status is one of these major barriers, considering that nearly 70 percent of adult Asians in the U.S. are born outside of the country. Immigrant women experienced the largest unemployment rates of any group in the United States from March 2020 through February 2021, according to the brief, hitting 17 percent last May. 

This also accounts for some of the disparity within the AAPI community. While AAPI women generally earn 85 cents for every dollar paid to their white male counterparts, according to a recent analysis cited in the brief, Samoan and Tongan women only earn 60 cents, Nepalese women only earn 54 cents, and for Burmese women, it's only 52 cents. But even these breakdowns are only part of the picture. 


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"Aggregated data often hide the true experiences of certain ethnicities and perpetuate the ‘model minority’ myth,” said NAPAWF in the brief. "For too long, our struggles have been erased by averages that do not accurately reflect our realities. The AAPI community is a vast and incredibly diverse group encompassing more than 50 ethnic subgroups speaking more than 100 languages and dialects. There may be critical differences in the rates of unemployment among different ethnicities, and lumping us all together not only fails to acknowledge that, it also erases many of our distinct economic issues that need to be addressed."

The situation isn't much better for those who are employed, however. AAPI women are overrepresented in the front line and low-wage workforces, which were disproportionately hit by the pandemic, but are typically paid less than white men in those positions. At the same time, 70 percent of racist incidents among a surge in anti-Asian hate over the last year were reported by women or nonbinary individuals, and many occurred at businesses or workplaces. 

"They’re serving your food, they’re doing your nails and they’re caring for your children and your elderly," Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the NAPAWF, told USA Today in April. "There are Asians in these jobs that people don’t often think about."


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Published on Jun 29, 2021