Why We Must Disaggregate Labor Market Data

Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day is a reminder of the importance of quality data

Last month our nation grappled with the horror of another mass shooting, this time targeting Asian women.

About a week before the killings in Atlanta, we marked Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day (March 9), that is, the day when these women reach the wages White men made in the prior calendar year.

In the labor market, Asian American and Pacific Islander women are crowded on both ends of the pay spectrum — as beauticians and service workers on one end (like the Atlanta shooting victims) and in medicine and tech fields on the other end. In Seattle, for example, which is one of five metro regions where we recently reported on workforce racial inequities, Asian or Pacific Islander immigrants are most overrepresented among high-wage computer and mathematical jobs (27% of the workforce) as well as low-wage personal care and service jobs (17%), and production jobs (17%).

Beyond that general occupational picture, however, the data around Asian and Pacific Islander women’s employment is incomplete. The Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for this population aren’t seasonally adjusted, because the sample size is too small. The data for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander women is only available on an annual basis, rather than monthly, as it is for other demographic groups. The disparities in available data make it hard to see the full picture.

What we do know is that Asian American women have some of the highest rates of long-term unemployment (six months or more).

About 6% of all Asian or Pacific Islander workers in the Seattle region are considered working poor, but nearly three times as many Pacific Islanders and people of Cambodian ancestry are working poor (economically insecure, despite working full time).

This is why deeply disaggregated data is so important. We can’t identify strategies and solutions to labor market inequities if we don’t fully understand the problems. As we advance workforce equity, we need to see the full picture, including all of its complexity.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions