For much of the previous decade, Asian Americans saw the lowest unemployment rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. They also had the highest median household income, which translated to figures that reinforced perceptions of them as the “model minority.”
Unfortunately, this is no longer the picture in New York, at least, where the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted Asian Americans. In the last four weeks, some 147,000 workers from the group filed initial unemployment claims.
The figure is reportedly up from 2,100 in the same period last year. That’s a staggering increase of 6,900%.
This appears to be the largest spike seen by any racial or ethnic group. For comparison, claims from white workers rose by 1,840%, Black by 1,260%, and Latinx by 2,100%, according to CNN.
Asian Americans only make up around 9% of New York’s population and workforce, but their claims now account for 12.5%. All the other groups had fewer claims than their populations.
This surge in unemployment has been attributed to various factors, such as the fact that many Asian American workers are employed in industries that were first hit by lockdown restrictions. These include restaurants and nail salons.
SCOOP: Asian Americans in New York reported 6900% more unemployment in the past 4 weeks than last year. That’s more than any other group. I talked to business owners, employees and labor economists about what’s behind these extreme numbers. https://t.co/5IVOx6aJCN
— Shannon Liao (@Shannon_Liao) May 1, 2020
Another possible explanation is that some Asian American-owned businesses already closed ahead of official stay-at-home orders. In some cases, workers themselves opted to stop working out of fears of contracting the coronavirus.
Perhaps the most destructive factor of all, however, is the rise in racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans. At a coffee shop in Sunset Park — also known as Brooklyn’s Chinatown — one customer reportedly asked the staff whether they had the virus as soon as she walked into the premises.
In March, the unemployment of Asian Americans at the national level rose by 1.6% from 2.5% in February to 4.1%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate is the same as for Latinx workers, but larger than for Black and White workers (both with a 0.9% increase).
This relatively large increase in unemployment reportedly took place while labor force participation declined less for other groups. As a result, Asian Americans now find themselves “caught between a rock and a hard place in a weak economy,” according to economist Christian Weller.
“They have little savings to fall back on and thus need to work longer, but find it harder than many other workers to find reemployment,” Weller wrote in a Forbes article.
“The average length of unemployment is always higher for Asian Americans than for whites, even as their unemployment rate is often below that of whites. During the last recession, the length of unemployment jumped much higher than for any other racial or ethnic group, reaching a 12-month average high of 48 weeks. The disproportionate jump in the Asian American unemployment rate is just a harbinger of a lot of economic pain coming.”
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