The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of July 22, 2008 - Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the Federal Workplace

Statement of Paul Ong, Director, UC AAPI Policy Multi-campus Research Program University of California, Los Angeles

I. Introduction

II. An overview of the Asian American work force. Key Points:

  1. Has grown rapidly over the last quarter century and will continue to grow more rapidly than the total work force over the next century.
  2. A very heterogenous work force by level of human capital, class, nativity and ethnicity, a byproduct of our immigration policies.
  3. Very unevenly distributed by geography and economic sector.

II. Ensuring that Asian American workers have equal opportunity is important to both the individual and the nation. Individuals should be free from discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion. Society benefits by using everyone's talents to maximize national productivity and innovation.

III. Overall, the empirical evidence based on analyses of large-scale data sets indicates that Asian Americans do not perform as well in the labor market after accounting for individual and contextual factors. Depending on individual factors can include education, place of education, nativity, and number of years in the U.S. for immigrants, English language ability, gender, and other observable characteristics.

Analyses based only on individual factors produce mixed results with in terms of detecting disparity relative to whites. When contextual factors, such as geographic location and sector of employment, the results are more likely to show that Asian Americans do not earn as much and are less likely to move into top management than whites, ceteris paribus.

There is also a distinctive gender differences in results. Generally, there is a disparity among males, but not among females. An interpretation of the latter is that AA females experience the same gender barriers as white AA females. There also appears to be a generational difference, with U.S. born less likely to experience a disparity.

III. Analysis of Asian American labor-market status is complicated by the fact that the majority of the Asian American workers are immigrants. The empirical research shows that language and nativity have strong influences on earnings and the probability of being in top management. One of the difficulties is in interpreting such findings. This may indicate that Asian Americans do not have the types of cultural-specific skills and abilities related to productivity. In this case, the observed outcomes are driven by rational economic forces and decision making. However, cultural and linguistic characteristics may not be related to productivity but represents a type of prejudice that is not justified by simple economic factors.

While the above empirical research are useful at testing for unexplained racial and ethnic disparity, this approach does provides only limited insights into the underlying labor-market practices that produce differential outcomes. Testimony and qualitative evidence of discriminatory experiences can complement the quantitative results. However, some of the evidence may be influenced by sample selection bias. Another interesting approach is using audit studies. One such study indicates that internet applicants with Asian surname are less likely to be invited to be interviewed than those with equal qualification but a non-Asian surname.

One of the reasons for more conclusive evidence is a paucity of research on Asian American workers and discrimination. Clearly, more research is needed, but in my opinion, the available studies indicate that Asian Americans do face some race-based barriers rooted in both individual prejudices and institutionalized biases.

This page was last modified on July 22, 2008.

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