For Asian-Americans, Lower Jobless Rates
Note: Figures are seasonally adjusted, except for Asians.
In the second quarter of this year, a greater percentage of Asian-Americans remained unemployed for the long term than any other major minority group — including blacks and Hispanics.
That's despite the fact that a higher percentage of the Asian-American population is college educated. And overall, the unemployment rate in this community is much lower than the average.
So, it seems unlikely that, faced with job loss, Asian-Americans would remain unemployed for longer.
But Kent Wong, who teaches at UCLA's Center for Labor Research and Education, says it's not surprising that they do. "There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes with regard to the Asian-American workforce," he says. "And many assume that because of the high numbers of college graduates within the Asian-American community ... there are not problems with low-wage employment or unemployment, and that's just not the case."
Wong says the Asian-American community is made up of both highly educated and unskilled workers. He says about 70 percent of the population are foreign born. They also tend to congregate more in urban areas, and live in ethnic enclaves — Chinatowns and Vietnamtowns. And they are typically focused on specific industries. The Chinese dominated the garment and restaurant industry, for example. Japanese specialize in gardening, and Vietnamese in nail salons.
The community is reinforcing in good times, but during a downturn — more so than other minorities — Asian-Americans lack the networks or language skills to find jobs outside their community or industry. And whereas Latinos of different nationalities are bound by a common language, there are about a dozen languages spoken in the Asian-American community.
"If you have a Vietnamese employee working for a Vietnamese employer in Little Saigon in Orange County, that does not transfer to an ability to get a job in Koreatown in Los Angeles," Wong says.
But Asian-Americans Face Longer Unemployment
More than half — 51.7 percent — of unemployed Asians 16 years old and above have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, compared with 45.8 percent for all workers.
Margaret May Chin, an associate professor of sociology at Hunter College, says Asian-Americans' long-term unemployment problem might have something to do with how many work in the cash economy. An unemployed spouse might have no choice but to hold out for a job that comes with health benefits. And Asian-Americans often live in multigenerational households.
"While Asian-Americans make supposedly a higher average income, they actually have more mouths to feed in their household," Chin says.
Jay Ian, the 29-year-old son of Korean immigrants, considers himself a reformed workaholic and control freak. But since losing his consultant's job in March, he's held out because he is considering another career or possibly going back to school. He's not alone. He recently vacationed with two other laid-off Asian-American friends.
"Just taking this time off has been really, I think, enlightening for all three of us, because I think being Asian-American we have this sense of, you know, we have to work," Ian says.
He says when he looks for a job in earnest in coming months, he will do so having shed some of those expectations.
Ian is lucky in having both a social network and the means to ride out his unemployment. Christopher Kui directs Asian Americans for Equality, a social outreach program. He says this is not true for many jobless workers he encounters.
"They don't even tell some of their relatives about it," Kui says. "And when they become unemployed, they really try to resolve the problem themselves."
Kui says that cultural tendency makes Asian-American unemployment especially difficult to address. There are few outreach programs like his, and less inclination to take advantage of them.