On May 25, during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Workforce Matters hosted a peer-to-peer conversation for funders supporting or interested in supporting workforce development in AAPI communities.  

Bryan Malong from Tipping Point Community in San Francisco kicked off the conversation by sharing Tipping Point’s learning journey while conducting and publishing research in their 2020 study Taking Count about poverty in the region. While the study elevated important demographic information for Bay Area communities, the research did not differentiate between AAPI communities. Instead, AAPIs were consolidated into one category–Asian American–which is fairly typical for most reports, if AAPIs are disaggregated at all. Tipping Point noted one shortfall of this method: the data could reflect only the most prominent Asian-origin groups, who might have better outcomes, while the experiences of all 20 Asian and Pacific Islander groups within the United States could be obscured. In short, the lack of more nuanced data can prevent funders and policymakers from serving the AAPI communities that are most in need. Understanding this nuance in data collection has helped Bryan’s team plan for a more complete picture of poverty and hardship in the Bay Area for future research and reports.  

Fontane Lo from Blue Shield of California Foundation shared about the 2019 AAPI California Workers Survey and resulting report by AAPI Data and PRRI that she commissioned while at the James Irvine Foundation.  Echoing Bryan, she highlighted what researchers and policymakers miss when they fail to conduct research in language and when they do not reach into AAPI communities to build capacity and trust.  Resulting data from surveys conducted only in English invisibilizes many AAPI communities and their needs. Fontane emphasized the important role that funders can play in building data equity and research infrastructure.

Sharing specifically about the 2019 survey, Fontane pointed out that the research was conducted in 7 languages (English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cambodian) and made use of data field houses and cultural capacity in order to reach Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders as well as workers from eight Asian national origin groups.  Some of the topline findings from the report include that 38% of AAPI workers in California are struggling with poverty, and there are significant challenges among AAPI ethnic groups, with Hmong (44%) and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (36%) Californians having the highest proportions of their populations who are working and struggling with poverty. The survey also revealed tremendous geographic disparities. Half of AAPI workers in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley struggle with poverty, compared with 20% of AAPI workers in the Bay Area.  

More recently, Tipping Point partnered with Emsi Burning Glass to analyze current labor market data in the Bay Area as part of an exploration into promising careers pathways, particularly following the pandemic. While the data for AAPI was still reported at an aggregate level, the report from Emsi Burning Glass reveals important insights that deserve further investigation:

  • AAPI are overrepresented in unemployment numbers: they account for 29% of the Bay Area workforce, but 35% of the unemployed population. 
  • AAPI workers are also underrepresented in entry level jobs leading to higher paying jobs.
  • These two statistics together suggest that many AAPI workers actually struggle to forge career paths from early employment to higher quality jobs. 
  • While AAPI workers tend to do well in high-paying industries like IT in the aggregate, we know there are significant differences in outcomes for Asian-born immigrants and different sub-populations—particularly Pacific Islander groups. Having disaggregated data would help better understand what drives these trends and which AAPI groups are most vulnerable.

Jen Racho from the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul, MN, shared about what she and her foundation have learned from making investments in AAPI communities and workers.  The Northwest Area Foundation comes to workforce development with a holistic and systemic lens, focused on helping communities thrive and prosper on their own terms. Their support for AAPI communities is no different. She emphasized the importance of spending time to build relationships with AAPI-led organizations to gain a better understanding of context and the conditions that lead to prosperity. She suggested that funders also consider whether pre-determined grant outcomes align with these realities.   Over the last two years, the Northwest Area Foundation has invested in National CAPACD’s AAPI Community Resilience Fund and the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund at the national level as well as in organizations and projects led by and serving AAPI immigrants and refugees across an eight-state region  that build capacity, prosperity, and long-tem resilience of AAPI communities.

Take-Aways for Funders:

  • Look at what we “know” about AAPIs with a critical eye. Disaggregation is key.
  • Invest in data equity and infrastructure–including in-language access, cultural capacity, and relationships with trusted community partners
  • Build understanding of the unique challenges of each AAPI community–in the context of their culture, immigration patterns, and history of oppression and disinvestment in the U.S.
  • When developing workforce strategy and investments for AAPI populations, do the homework on which industries and occupations have high concentrations of AAPIs and what the specific challenges and opportunities are
  • Meet AAPI nonprofits where they are and support their long-term capacity
  • Intentionally expand grantmaking to AAPI communities AND think outside the grantmaking box to support AAPI communities by using sponsorships, leadership development opportunities, and communications opportunities; expanding hiring networks; and showing cross-cultural solidarity

Resources for Further Learning: