Asians Out Of Work Longest Among U.S. Minorities A greater percentage of Asian-Americans have remained unemployed for the long term than any other major minority group. One possible reason: In a downturn, Asians can lack the networks or language skills to find jobs outside their community or industry.

Asians Out Of Work Longest Among U.S. Minorities

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The Labor Department released its monthly unemployment reports this morning and the numbers are bleak. The economy shed more jobs than expected, and the unemployment rate remains at 9.6 percent.

But if you dig a little deeper in the numbers, there are other figures worth noting. Here's one: In the second quarter of this year, a greater percentage of Asian-Americans were out of work for the long term than any other major minority group. NPR's Yuki Noguchi looks at why.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Part of the enigma about that number is this: 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.

Professor KENT WONG (UCLA): I was actually not surprised.

NOGUCHI: Kent Wong teaches at UCLA's Center for Labor Research and Education.

Mr. WONG: There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes with regard to the Asian-American workforce. And many assume because of the high numbers of college graduates within the Asian-American community that there are not problems with low wage employment or unemployment, and that's just not the case.

NOGUCHI: 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.

They also typically focused on specific industries. The Chinese dominated the garment and restaurant industry, for example. Japanese specialize in gardening. And Vietnamese in nail salons. That 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 common language, there are about a dozen languages spoken in the Asian-American community.

Mr. WONG: 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.

NOGUCHI: Margaret May Chin is an associate professor of sociology at Hunter College. She says one reason Asian-Americans have a 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 multi-generational households.

Professor MARGARET MAY CHIN (Hunter College): While Asian-Americans make supposedly a higher average income, they actually have more mouths to feed in their household.

NOGUCHI: Jay Ian is the 29-year-old son of Korean immigrants. He considers himself a reformed workaholic and control freak. But since losing his consultant's job in March, he's held out because he's considering another career or possibly going back to school. He's not alone. He recently vacationed with two other laid off Asian-American friends.

Mr. JAY IAN: Just taking this time off has been really, I think, enlightening for all three of us, because, you know, I think being Asian-American, we have this sense of, you know, we have to work.

NOGUCHI: 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 a 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.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER KUI (Director, Asian-Americans for Equality): They don't even tell some of their relatives about it. And when they become unemployed, they really try to resolve the problem themselves.

NOGUCHI: Kui says that cultural tendency makes Asian-American employment is especially difficult to address. There are few outreach programs like his, and less inclination to take advantage of them.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

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