Each year the United States commemorates Equal Pay Day to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Data show that women still earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. This gender-based wage gap stubbornly remains despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and a variety of legislation prohibiting employment discrimination.
The wage gap is even greater for most women of color including Asian American women. Asian American women make 87.6 percent of what the average man earns and 73 percent of what Asian American men make. Pay equity is therefore crucial to the economic advancement of Asian American women, as well as their families and communities.
Here are 10 numbers that demonstrate why pay equity is important for Asian American women and their families.
1. $770: The median weekly earnings for Asian American women in 2012. Asian American women might show the smallest gender gap, but it is growing. Asian American women’s earnings dropped from 86.6 percent of all men’s earnings in 2010 to 84.8 percent in 2011.
2. 48 percent: The share of Asian American women working in service and sales occupations, compared to about 1 in 10 Asian American men and a similar share of white men. These are generally low-paying jobs, as the median hourly wages in the service and sales industries are $10.02 and $12.06, respectively. This exacerbates the wage gap for Asian American women and highlights the need for pay equity.
3. 12.1 percent: The share of Asian American women living in poverty, compared to 7.7 percent of white men. In 2011 there were more than 1 million Asian American women living in poverty—an increase from less than 0.7 million in 1999. According to the American Community Survey, from 2002 to 2010 the number of Asian Americans living in poverty increased by 46 percent. Pay equity will help decrease the number of Asian American women living in poverty and will combat poverty in the community as a whole.
4. 21: The number of Asian American and Pacific Islander women who are officers of large corporations. This represents 0.3 percent of the total number of officers of large corporations. Men hold close to 85 percent of all board seats. Although Asian American women currently make up 57 percent of the labor force, Asian American and Pacific Islander women leaders are significantly underrepresented in the four major employment sectors—corporate, government, nonprofit, and education. This underrepresentation serves to widen the gender wage gap.
5. 60 percent: The share of Asian American women living in the United States who are immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40 percent of all Asian Americans speak English less than “very well,” and 1.2 million Asian Americans are undocumented. Although foreign-born women have similar educational attainment levels as U.S.-born women, foreign degrees and technical skills are often nontransferable due to language and cultural differences. This, combined with a lack of legal status, often results in women working low-wage laborious jobs.
6. 45.5 percent: The share of Asian American women who do not have access to paid sick leave from their jobs. The lack of paid leave creates barriers to taking care of sick children, as well as their own health, resulting in poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs. Access to paid leave is directly related to type of employment, as low-wage work typically offers fewer benefits and less flexibility, leaving these women especially susceptible to the economic challenges presented by low-wage work alongside little flexibility and minimal or no benefits.
7. 7.1 percent: The long-term unemployment rate of Asian Americans in 2010. As of March 2013 approximately 25,000 of the 166,000 unemployed Asian American women were looking for full-time jobs compared to the approximately 19,000 unemployed Asian American men looking for full-time jobs. The higher number of Asian American women seeking full-time jobs indicates that this group in particular faces greater issues of underemployment. By closing the wage gap, we can offset some of the wage inequities caused by underemployment.
8. $10,840 less: The annual wage disparity between Asian American women who held a bachelor’s degree and their Asian American male counterparts as of 2010. The disparity in earnings of Asian American women compared to white men is even greater at $11,354. This large disparity hinders Asian American women, who receive the same education as males and are unable to earn the same salary due to pay inequality.
9. 31 percent: The share of Asian American and Pacific Islander women raising children with a same-sex partner in California. Studies show that lesbian couples have a greater poverty rate than both different-sex couples and gay couples.
10. 20.6 percent: The percentage of Asian and Pacific Islander women who are uninsured. This is particularly harmful for Asian American women since, as a group, they have one of the highest risks of cancer. Additionally, many of them do not have access to health insurance since many Asian American women work in low-income jobs without health benefits.
Although the wage gap tends to be smaller for Asian American women than for other minority women, the numbers above show how they are still significantly impacted by pay inequity. Closing the wage gap will bring more Asian American women into leadership positions, give equal opportunity to immigrant women, and bring positive change to all of our communities.
Jennifer Molina and Morriah Kaplan are interns with Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.