Data Disaggregation is a Civil Rights Issue, and we need Federal Action NOW

By AAPI Data, NCAPA, SEARAC, and EPIC

Time to read: 6 minutes

May is an important month for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. It is a time of reflection and celebration, as we honor our civil rights leaders and the progress we have made over the last several decades. May is also a time for us to do our part — to continue our community push for recognition and respect, and to show our #PowerInNumbers during a critical election year.

As community leaders who stand on the shoulders of advocates who preceded us, we ask you to join us this May, as we mobilize and push for federal Data Disaggregation Now. One immediate step you can take is to fill out our sign-on letter with a deadline of April 29. We will deliver our petition to leaders in Congress and the Biden administration, and we hope to work with you to make timely progress on this critical issue.

Click the image above to access the sign-on letter

Why are we doing this?

As a collective of community organizations in service of immigrant, refugee, and indigenous communities, we understand the varied experiences of the approximately 26 million AANHPI members in the United States and territories, and how those experiences, including centuries of discriminatory policies, have resulted in inequitable access and treatment. 

Our community is certainly not a monolith, and disparities in wages, poverty, and educational attainment necessitate better understanding of our communities by policy makers. Data equity is an essential first step in achieving equitable outcomes. For decades, we have known that lack of data means lack of recognition. Lack of recognition of the barriers, challenges, and harms facing our communities. And without recognition, our communities are unable to get the attention and the resources we need.

For decades, we have known that lack of data means lack of recognition. Lack of recognition of the barriers, challenges, and harms facing our communities. And without recognition, our communities are unable to get the attention and the resources we need.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the high rates of infection and death among NHPI and Filipino populations went unnoticed until months into the pandemic and it was too late to take preventive measures. Among 20 states with mortality data on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 18 states reported higher COVID-19 death rates for NHPIs than any other racial or ethnic group. Just as concerning, very few places tracked COVID outcomes among Filipinos, even as we knew that Filipino nurses were acutely vulnerable to the pandemic.

A STAT article published in November 2023 highlights how lack of disaggregated data obscures health disparities within AAPI communities

More generally, the lack of detailed data on AA and NHPI populations means that our communities suffer disproportionately from various diseases, burdens of poverty, and lack of language access and culturally competent care. For example, about 15% of Hmong Americans and 17% of Samoan Americans live in poverty compared to the Asian American average of 10%. On the issue of language access, 42% of Chinese Americans and 60% of Burmese Americans need language assistance to access various programs and services.

Why are we mobilizing now?

After nearly 30 years, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently announced major revisions on race and ethnicity data collection standards across all federal agencies. For the first time, ALL federal agencies will be required to collect detailed race and ethnicity data giving us the data to understand and develop solutions to address disparities.

On March 28, 2024, the White House published a blog announcing revisions to Statistical Policy Directive (SPD) 15

This means that Vietnamese, Samoan, Hmong, Chinese, Korean, and other communities will finally be seen for the first time by the many federal entities that  shape vital policies, programs, and investments that impact our communities. We will finally be able to know the number of Cambodians who have faced housing discrimination; the number of Indians who suffer from cervical cancer; and the percentage of Tongans with high college debt.

The federal government’s announcement is a step in the right direction, but we have major concerns.

These concerns include: 

  • Years-long delays in the implementation of data disaggregation by federal agencies, as they can apply for exemptions from collecting ethnicity data without any strict guidelines or guardrails that ensure that our communities are being served in a timely manner.
  • No clarity on who specifically in the federal government will be responsible for monitoring and evaluating progress and success across agencies.
  • No understanding of the full range of federal data collections (Censuses, surveys, administrative forms) that allow us to see what progress towards 100% implementation looks like.
  • Limited guidance on how the community will be involved in the formulation of policy changes
  • Limiting the ability of smaller communities to have checkboxes on federal forms resulting in communities to continue being rendered invisible.

The time to engage is now, or we risk being sidelined for years to come.

More specifically, we are pushing for sufficient resources and preparation to ensure the collection of Asian and NHPI ethnicity data across ALL federal agencies and ALL federal data forms and surveys. Good data is essential for every issue we care about, ranging from education and health, to housing and language access.

The time to engage is now, or we risk being sidelined for years to come.

What are the asks?

We have 3 major asks of the Biden Administration over the next six months:

  1. The Chief Statistician must publish a data disaggregation inventory of all current federal agency data collections by September 2024.
  2. The Chief Statistician must clearly designate a centralized, coordinated body within the Office of Statistical Programs & Standards that will monitor, evaluate, and provide technical assistance across agencies by June 2024.
  3. The Chief Statistician must convene the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Standards by June 2024 and begin receiving input on the collection of detailed categories by September 2024 from experts in community organizations and scientific research institutions. Two immediate areas needing community input include issuing strict guidelines on agency exemptions that prevent disaggregated data collections, and making it easier for smaller AA and NHPI groups to fill out federal forms through checkboxes.

We ask that you support data equity for our AANHPI communities by joining this sign-on letter urging Federal Data Disaggregation Now.

We will be collecting organizational signatures until April 29, and hope you can join us in standing up for—and with—our mighty, diverse, and powerful communities of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.