The Honolulu City Council is considering a resolution to urge state and city agencies to collect detailed race data beyond the minimum federal standards.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Esther Kiaʻaina introduced the measure, which was discussed at a committee meeting Tuesday.

“Racial data is the heart of this resolution,” Kiaʻaina said at the hearing. “It’s simply encouraging the state of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu to further disaggregate Asian and Pacific Islander data.”

The committee deferred voting on the resolution until next month to allow more time to incorporate community feedback. The measure comes as the pandemic highlights stark racial and ethnic disparities in Hawaii and the fact that the state doesn’t consistently track data on Native Hawaiians or other communities.

Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina listens to public testimony during city council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaʻaina listens to public testimony during a city council meeting at Honolulu Hale. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

A month ago, the Legislature approved its own resolution urging Gov. David Ige to establish a task force “to assess the current data collection, processing, retention, and sharing procedures, needs, and challenges across state agencies.”

The resolution, which was part of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ legislative package, also specifically asks the Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the Department of Human Services, the judiciary and county police departments to share detailed race data.

The measure also calls on the agencies to work with Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander organizations to improve their data collection and submit a report by next year.

The only city agency that is included in the Legislature’s resolution, however, would be the Honolulu Police Department. Kia’aina’s initiative is aimed at improving race data collection across both the city and state governments.

City Resolution

On Tuesday, Kiaʻaina said that it’s been nearly 25 years since the federal government issued guidelines establishing minimum standards for race data disaggregation that carved out “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” as a distinct category.

The councilwoman noted that those are minimum standards and states and cities have the discretion to disaggregate further.

“I believe that Hawaii can do better,” she said. “This issue is critically important to our Asian and Pacific Islander communities.”

Nearly half of Hawaii’s population identifies as either Asian, Native Hawaiian or another Pacific Islander ethnicity, according to data from the U.S. Census that reflects people who identify as a single race. Another quarter of the population identifies as mixed race, which includes many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well.

Hawaii is home to noticeable racial and ethnic disparities within the broad Asian American and Pacific Islander umbrellas, according to a 2018 state study. For example, that study found the poverty rate for people who identify as part Japanese in Hawaii was about 6%, compared with 20% for people who identify as part Samoan.

City Council Resolution 21-100 lists several benefits of data disaggregation, including more accurate research, better awareness of racial and ethnic inequities in health care and more information to help voters hold policymakers accountable.

More detailed race data would also allow “for the creation of policies that will address the underlying economic and health disparities,” the resolution says.

The resolution specifically suggests disaggregating data into 13 different race groups, including White; Black; American Indian or Alaska Native; Filipino; Japanese; Chinese; Korean; Other Asian; Native Hawaiian; Samoan; Micronesian; Tongan; and Other Pacific Islander.

Kiaʻaina proposed adding Vietnamese and Chamorro to the list and said community organizations are also asking for a write-in option.

The issue of race and ethnicity data disaggregation has received more attention since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. Kiaʻaina was outspoken last April in criticizing the state Health Department for initially failing to separate Native Hawaiians from other Pacific Islanders in its coronavirus data.

When the agency released disaggregated case data in June, it revealed that Native Hawaiians weren’t actually experiencing a coronavirus disparity, while non-Hawaiian Pacific Islanders had by far the highest rates of reported COVID-19 cases.

Kiaʻaina said she hoped the resolution would help county agencies collect better data initially so that it doesn’t take months to disaggregate and report. She said more time was needed to tweak the details of the resolution based on community input.

“I want to move forward something that’s realistic,” she said.

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