Asian Americans are taking a bigger hit during the coronavirus-driven economic downturn than White workers and other job market participants, federal labor data show.
According to the Labor Department’s, the jobless rate for Asian Americans in August was 10.7%. That far exceeds unemployment for White Americans, at 7.3%, and for workers overall, at 8.4%. It also runs counter to the recent trend, in which unemployment historically has been lower for Asian Americans, who consistently have had the highest rate of employment of any major ethnic group in the U.S.
“The unemployment among Asian-American workers increased more than unemployment among White workers in the COVID-19 downturn,” said Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. “Those who could not telework or those who worked in industries in which services are delivered in person, such as restaurants or health care or personal care, were much hit much harder.”
Unemployment among Black and Hispanic workers last month was 13% and 10.5%, respectively.
A recent report from consulting firm McKinsey found that a large share of businesses in industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic are owned by Asians, who make up 6% of the U.S. population. For instance, one quarter of all restaurants and hotels in the U.S. are owned by Asian Americans, who also own 17% of retail stores.
McKinsey also attributed part of the outsized impact to racism, saying that in the early stages of the pandemic this spring consumers shunned areas with large concentrations of Asian-owned businesses.
“Asian-owned businesses are overrepresented in sectors that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” the firm said. However, “the pandemic has exacerbated anti-Asian xenophobia and racism, which have historically acted as barriers to equity.”
President Donald Trump has repeatedlywhich many have warned could fuel racism against Asian Americans.
“Anecdotally you hear that business are hit especially hard in Chinatowns, driven by Americans who for some reason think that Chinese Americans are more likely to have the virus because it was first detected in China,” Marlene Kim, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told CBS MoneyWatch. “But generally, Asians are more likely to live in metropolitan areas, which have had higher COVID-19 infection rates.”
The pandemic has also been particularly deadly for Asian Americans, along with other U.S. minorities, which could be impacting the job market as well. A May report from the Asian American Research Center on Health found that Asians accounted for 14% of all COVID-19 cases in San Francisco, but over half of all deaths.
Notably, however, lower unemployment rates for Asian Americans before the pandemic largely stem from a higher level of education, the Economic Policy Institute has found. Adjust for that and Asian Americans actually had higher, not lower, rates of unemployment than White workers.
“The Asian population in America has lots of high-end workers, but also lots of low-end workers as well,” said Kim, who authored the EPI study. Because higher-income employees tend to have more education, when they lose their jobs it often longer for them to find new employment, Kim explained. “Higher education workers end up being counted as unemployed longer instead of giving up.”