Asian Americans Face Long-Term Unemployment and Other Workforce Challenges

Commuters arrive from Metro North Railroad trains at New York’s Grand Central Station.

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Asian American workers face longest period of unemployment and other labor challenges, despite having the lowest unemployment rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S.

Economists say aggregated data and income figures fail to capture the complex and diverse labor market experiences of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“Labor market statistics for Asian American workers generally reflect healthier conditions than the average worker,” said Carmen Sanchez Cumming, senior research associate at the Center for Equitable Growth in Washington. How it’s distributed has an impact.”

In April, The unemployment rate for Asian workers in the U.S. is 3.1 percent, according to the Labor Department. That compares with an overall unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in the U.S. and 3.2 percent for whites. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report monthly metrics for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander workers.)

However, other labor market statistics suggest that Asian Americans are more likely than other workers to suffer from long-term unemployment. By 2021, Asian Americans will be unemployed for a median of 21.9 weeks, the longest of any racial or ethnic group tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Asian men, in particular, were unemployed for an average of 26.1 weeks.

Last month, Asian men were unemployed on average for 46.2 weeks, while Asian women averaged 33.9 weeks. A report from Equitable Growth found.

“The longer a person is employed, the more difficult it is for workers to get back into employment, and if they do, wages are generally lower,” said the report’s author, Sanchez Cumming.

Transition rates — the likelihood of workers moving from unemployment to reemployment — also suggest that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a hard time re-employment once they’ve lost their jobs. Analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This long-term unemployment outcome persisted even after adjusting for factors such as age and education.

CEPR economist Julie Cai said: “Once you control for a bunch of demographic factors, if you still see lower transition rates for certain groups of workers, you’re just going to attribute it to labor market stereotypes or discrimination.”

CEPR research shows that AAPI women are the least likely to change careers after losing their jobs in the first quarter of 2022 compared to AAPI men, black, white and Hispanic workers.

The monthly job transfer rate of the unemployed

Asian Pacific women Asian Pacific man Black Hispanic white
First half of 202123.422.920.527.525.4
Second half of 202122.422.223.631.429.2
Q1 202224.531.724.335.230.5

(Source: Julie Cai, CEPR, calculations using monthly current population surveys. Job transitions are measured as month-to-month transitions from unemployment to employment. Results are adjusted for workers’ age, education, and housing status. AAPI, Black and White groups do not include individuals who identify as Hispanic.)

Sanchez Cumming said research on previous recessions suggests that certain factors also affect the difficulties Asian workers in the U.S. face when trying to re-employ. A large proportion of Asian American workers were born outside the United States, visa-related hurdles can arise, and not speaking English as a first language is a labor market disadvantage. Education abroad can also be punished.

Economists also pointed to large labor market disparities within the larger AANHPI category. Asian Americans have the largest intragroup economic inequality in the country, The Pew Research Center found.

“Various AANHPI subgroups focus on low-paying occupations and other high-paying occupations. This dynamic is driven by differences in culture, immigration patterns, generational wealth, and intersecting gender, racial and ethnic biases,” said Lauren Hoffman, associate director of American Advancement Women’s advocacy groups work for women’s economic security.

For example, in 2020, Nepalese women paid only 46 cents for every dollar of income paid to non-Hispanic white men, while Taiwanese women paid $1.20 to non-Hispanic white men, Hoffman’s analysis found.

“It is very important and critical to break down or try to better understand how subgroups within this population are performing in terms of labor market outcomes,” Cai said.

Classification is “the only way we can develop comprehensive, broad policy solutions to these problems,” Hoffman said.