The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on workers across the country. Many Americans are now working from home in order to maintain social distancing, but not every business has been able to stay open or continue to pay its workers. A large number of people have been laid off or furloughed as a result, forcing them to apply for unemployment benefits. While there has been a general increase in unemployment claims, Asian Americans have experienced a particularly large increase in unemployment. In New York, unemployment claims filed by Asian-American workers have increased by 6,900%, the largest increase among any racial group in the area by far.
This sharp increase in unemployment among Asian Americans specifically is troubling, especially considering that these unemployment claims are disproportionate to the population of Asian-American workers in New York. Asian Americans make up 9% of the state's population but account for 12.5% of unemployment claims filed in the last four weeks -- as compared to making up only 3.7% of unemployment claims this time last year.
It's hard to say what exactly accounts for this spike in unemployment among Asian Americans, but early social distancing precautions as well as an increase in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have been cited as possible contributing factors. Some Chinese Americans have stated that the Chinese American community began taking precautions for the pandemic early on, possibly contributing to the closure of some businesses in the community. However, racism and xenophobia are also heavily suspected as a major factor in Asian American unemployment. Even before COVID-19 began spreading in the United States and stay at home orders were issued, many Asian American businesses were already reporting a decrease in customer traffic. Constant association of China and East Asians with the virus have contributed to an uptick in anti-Asian racism, likely leading many to avoid Asian-owned businesses as harmful stereotypes about Chinese Americans as well as East Asian Americans spread.
In addition to these possible factors in the increase in unemployment among Asian Americans, some have posited that Asian Americans working low-wage jobs were likely affected first and most likely make up a large portion of Asian Americans who have filed for unemployment -- for example, Asian Americans make up 57% of "miscellaneous personal appearance workers," working in businesses such as salons, nationwide.
The increase in unemployment claims filed by Asian Americans also contributes to Asian Americans' increasingly precarious position in the United States. Asian Americans have often been stereotyped as the "model minority" -- a view that has been largely overshadowed by coronavirus-related racism and discrimination. The model minority stereotype has been upheld by statistics regarding Asian American workers: Asian workers had the highest household income and lowest unemployment rate among racial groups in the United States. In favor of perpetuating the model minority myth, these statistics masked the disparity in income between individual Asian ethnic groups in the United States, as well as other difficulties experienced by Asian American workers such as discrimination in the workplace and difficulty being promoted to leadership and managerial positions. The current disproportionate unemployment claims filed by Asian Americans reveals the inaccuracies of the model minority myth but can also highlight a level of uncertainty as to where Asian Americans now stand in the United States.
The current situation faced by Asian Americans raises questions as to what kind of long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic may have on the Asian American community, and how Asian Americans will be treated and view even after the pandemic. Asian Americans have experienced a sharp increase in both anti-Asian racism and unemployment on top of the pandemic. Additionally, researchers have recently reported that Asian Americans make up 52% of COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco, another troubling statistic that does not yet have a clear cause. The multiple adverse effects of the pandemic on Asian Americans as a whole is concerning, and Asian Americans' position in the United States in both the present and the future consequently remains uncertain.