May 01, 2017

Hirono Leads Effort for More Accurate Data on Asian American & Pacific Islanders

Current Standards Perpetuate “Model Minority” Myth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 10 Senate Democrats urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to update its standards for the collection of racial and ethnic data to better reflect the nation’s growing Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. Such standards have not been updated since 1997. Today is the first day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“A lack of disaggregated data on the AAPI community has led to the ‘model minority’ myth that—based on the current federal data—virtually all AAPIs are self-sufficient, well-educated, and upwardly mobile. However, in reality these metrics differ widely among different AAPI subcategories,” the Senators wrote. “Better data collection will more accurately reflect the AAPI community’s realities and needs such as educational challenges, language access, poverty, and disability. Without access to better data, these disparities would remain concealed behind the model minority myth leaving our communities invisible to policymakers and our needs unmet.”

In addition, the letter requests OMB require all federal departments and agencies follow disaggregated classifications noted in a recently-released U.S. Census Bureau report titled 2015 National Content Test: Race and Ethnicity Analysis Report.

The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D- Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center support the letter.

“Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders – communities that are incredibly diverse and trace their heritage to more than 50 different countries and speak more than 100 different languages – are acutely aware of the importance and need for strong federal data collection standards,” said Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “These standards impact many aspects of health access, coverage and quality and produce data that the federal government and our communities rely upon.”

“The Asian American and Pacific Islander community represents more than 100 countries and 56 languages, but that rich heritage is essentially invisible without disaggregated data,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Such data is critical to our ability to get the proper level of services and representation. Our community delivered a strong message to OMB that we demand to be counted."

"It is imperative for federal agencies to collect detailed data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders so the government is able to determine the best ways to allocate resources that account for our community's economic, health and educational disparities, as well was our cultural and linguistic diversity,” said Christopher Kang, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. “We are encouraged to have strong support from Members of Congress, hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals on the need to change federal data collection standards so that our communities are not misrepresented or left behind."

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The full letter is printed below.

Office of the U.S. Chief Statistician:

We write to express our strong support for updating the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, to improve the reporting categories, questions, and data collection for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Our country’s population has changed significantly since OMB’s standards were last updated in 1997 and the methods and language used to record race and ethnicity should be updated to reflect those changes. In particular, the AAPI community is comprised of diverse racial groups representing dozens of ethnicities, cultures, and migration stories from around the world. A lack of disaggregated data on the AAPI community has led to the “model minority” myth that—based on the current federal data—virtually all AAPIs are self-sufficient, well-educated, and upwardly mobile. However, in reality these metrics differ widely among different AAPI subcategories.

Better data collection will more accurately reflect the AAPI community’s realities and needs such as educational challenges, language access, poverty, and disability. Without access to better data, these disparities would remain concealed behind the model minority myth leaving our communities invisible to policymakers and our needs unmet.

Therefore, we urge the OMB to require all federal departments and agencies, when collecting, analyzing, using, reporting, and disseminating data on race or ethnicity, to follow the disaggregated classifications as noted in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 National Content Test Race and Ethnicity Analysis Report (the Report)[1]. In addition, we encourage the OMB to consider updating such classifications regularly to reflect the ever evolving AAPI population. Further, the disaggregated classifications in the Report are minimum measurements used in the collection of data, therefore OMB should indicate to federal departments and agencies their ability to go beyond such standards when engaging in data collection of their own.

Currently, because of the lack of disaggregated data for the populations they serve, many community organizations undertake time consuming and expensive data collections of their own.

These groups typically lack the expertise in statistical services. Therefore, they must put greater relative resources into data collection efforts than government agencies that are already engaging in data collection. The expense and time put towards these custom data collection efforts are a less effective use of resources than the services they could be providing. OMB should consider the quality of data and the efficiency of government led data collection efforts when updating the Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.

As members of Congress that recognize the value of federal statistics and the work done by the agencies that collect them, we stand ready to work with OMB and the relevant statistical agencies to update these standards. Ultimately, this minimal change in data collection will lead to better outcomes and better targeting of resources, which in the long-run is good not only for the federal government but also for the states, localities, businesses, and non-governmental organizations that rely on such statistics.

With better data, policymakers and community organizations will be able to initiate targeted support to those within the AAPI community who need it most. We appreciate your consideration and stand ready to continue working with OMB to improve AAPI achievement.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 National Content Test Race and Ethnicity Analysis Report.