Some Asian American and Pacific Islander women face a $1 million salary shortfall due to the pay gap

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March 12 is generally considered equal pay day, the mark of just how far into the new year women have to keep working to make what their male counterparts typically made in just the previous year, also known as the gender pay gap.

However, for some groups that date comes much later.

For Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women, they’ll have to work until April 3 to make the same pay white men earned the year before.

In other words, an AAPI woman has to work 15 months to earn what a man makes in one year, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, said Sarah Javaid, the NWLC’s research analyst. 

“The discrimination that many Asian women face can be really different depending on their cultural background,” she said.

The wage gap varies among AAPI groups

Although AAPI — also referred to as AANHPI — communities together constitute some of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the U.S., “systemic barriers to equity, justice and opportunity put the American dream out of reach of many,” according to the Biden administration.

Together, AAPI women are typically paid just 93 cents for every dollar paid to white men, although the pay gap varies significantly for some AAPI communities.

For example, Bhutanese women working full time earn just 49 cents for every dollar white men earn.

Over time, that inequality is magnified. Based on today’s wage gap, an AAPI woman just starting out will lose $187,616 over a 40-year career, according to the NWLC’s analysis.

For some groups the losses are much greater. The lifetime wage gap totals more than $1.4 million for Bhutanese women. Burmese women stand to lose more than $1.2 million because of the wage gap, Nepalese women over $1.1 million, and Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian women more than $1 million over the course of their careers, the nonprofit advocacy group found.

“That really short-changes them in their entire life,” Javaid said. “When women don’t have that money they can’t invest in wealth building opportunities,” she added, such as buying a home, paying for their children’s education or saving for retirement.

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And even then, there is a long term impact that is beyond measure. “We can’t quantify what we don’t know they’ve missed out on,” Javaid said.

There are other groups of AANHPI women working full time who make more than white men, including Chinese women, Indian women, Malaysian women and Taiwanese women; however, these women still make less than men in their respective communities, the report also found. 

‘Disparity thrives in pay secrecy’

There are initiatives that can help narrow the gap, Javaid noted, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to eliminate pay discrimination and strengthen workplace protections for women, and pay transparency laws, which require employers to list their minimum and maximum salary ranges on publicized job postings.

“Disparity thrives in pay secrecy,” Javaid said.

The idea is that pay legislation will bring about pay equity, or essentially equal pay for work of equal or comparable value, regardless of worker gender, race or other demographic category.

However, “there is no one solution that is going to close this gap,” she added. “The key is using multiple different strategies.”

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