Equity depends on collecting data by ethnicity

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EQUITY FUND Along with confronting white supremacy, the California legislature must also address systemic issues of unequal access to assistance and resources.

As the violence against Asian Americans erupted to a climax with the tragic mass shooting in an Atlanta-area business this spring, our community reckoned with what it means to be Asian American. Of the nearly 7,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans, including vandalism, assault and even murder, 40% occurred in California. 

Yet hate is only one of the devastating effects of the pandemic on California’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Covid-19 is not the root cause of the disparate health outcomes our communities face, but it has escalated the systemic issues of unequal access to assistance and resources.

These outcomes become even more extreme when we break down the data by ethnicity. Despite suffering the highest Covid-19 infection and mortality rates, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have received minimal assistance, and are often left out of surveys and other data collection.

Our state is home to the largest Southeast Asian community in America—more than 1 million individuals, including Hmong, Cambodian and Lao people. A glance at these communities illustrates why it is important to collect data for distinct ethnic groups. All three groups earn at least 37% less per capita than white individuals, with Hmong only earning a quarter of what whites make. Southeast Asians have one of the lowest educational attainment rates and are more likely to be uninsured. Inequities in these communities, including housing and food insecurity, were exacerbated by the pandemic.

The recent spotlight on our communities reminds us of the need to collect data identifiable for specific ethnic groups. And while both the federal and state governments took steps to address hate and disparate health outcomes of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities during the pandemic, California must do more.

Today, we have an opportunity to change the narrative. The state Senate and Assembly budget committees recommend establishing a California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund, with an annual allocation of $100 million to support community-based organizations, clinics and tribal organizations to address the most pressing inequities in their communities.

The proposal builds on Assembly Bill 1038, which proposes creating a California Health Equity Fund, just passed in the Assembly with a landslide of bipartisan support. The next steps are for the full Legislature and the governor to support the bill and budget proposal.

The fund will dedicate resources to support community-based initiatives to tackle the underpinnings of bias and violence perpetrated against California’s Asian Americans. Through grants to nonprofit organizations, clinics, tribal organizations and local health departments already working on pandemic-recovery initiatives, the equity fund will help address community violence and hate crimes, housing, food security, healthcare, economic stability, education and child care, and environmental justice. 

Grants will be awarded based on specific community needs identified through state and local data, underscoring the need for data specific to our communities. Disaggregated data will help break down the monolithic myth of “Asian” that in reality is a composition of several races and ethnicities, and ensure that state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, have accurate data so that resources can get to the communities that need them.

While community organizations work hard to battle Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander hate crimes, and to improve safety and overall well-being, they need additional support. AB 1038 will tackle, at the local level, short- and long-term problems created by the pandemic. That is where it is needed most.

Rod Lew is executive director of Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership. rodlew@appealforhealth.org.

Editor’s note: Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership is a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 1038.

—CalMatters