: 4 in 10 jobless workers are experiencing long-term unemployment — and Asian Americans are hardest hit

United States

Millions of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic have remained out of work for several months, and these prolonged unemployment spells have disproportionately impacted jobless Asian Americans, a new analysis shows.

As of February, 41.5% of unemployed workers had been out of work for more than six months, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The number of Americans experiencing long-term unemployment, or joblessness lasting at least 27 weeks, totaled about 4.1 million that month. That translates to 2.6% of the overall workforce.

The report came one year after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and prompted devastating economic shutdowns across the country. During the Great Recession, long-term joblessness took almost two years to climb to this level.

Help is on the way for many jobless Americans: President Joe Biden signed the $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill into law Thursday, authorizing an extra $ 300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 and $ 1,400 direct payments, among other provisions.

Asian Americans saw the steepest increase in long-term unemployment between the fourth quarter of 2019 and Q4 of 2020, climbing 25 percentage points, according to Pew’s analysis of U.S. government data. Some 46% of unemployed Asian Americans had been without a job more than six months during the final stretch of 2020. 

The same was true for 38% of unemployed Black workers, 35% of unemployed white workers and 34% of unemployed Hispanic workers. Among those groups, long-term unemployment rose between 13 and 16 percentage points year over year; across all workers, it increased by 15 points.

It’s “not entirely clear” what’s fueling Asian Americans’ comparatively higher long-term jobless rate, the report said, but suggested it could be due in part to Asian populations disproportionately residing in states hardest hit by pandemic-induced economic shutdowns.   

“Nearly a third of Asian Americans (31%) lived in California in 2019, a state that had some of the longest shutdowns and most severe outbreaks in 2020,” the report said. “New York is the state with the second largest share of the Asian population (9%) and suffered the third most employment losses since the start of the pandemic.”

Asian Americans’ unemployment rate rose more than 450% between February and June 2020, outstripping other groups’ rates of increase, found a McKinsey & Co. analysis published in August. The Asian unemployment rate has recovered substantially since peaking last spring, as with other racial and ethnic groups.

The early Asian-American unemployment surge was driven at least in part by Asians’ concentration in jobs heavily impacted by the pandemic, previous research has suggested: Nearly a quarter of employed Asian Americans work in hospitality and leisure, retail, or “other services” industries like personal care, according to a UCLA report published in July. About a quarter of businesses in food and accommodation services are also Asian-owned, McKinsey’s report said.

And because of factors like language barriers and immigration-status concerns, many Asian Americans may lack access to or knowledge about resources such as unemployment insurance and pandemic relief provisions, Qin Gao, a Columbia University professor of social work, previously told MarketWatch.

Many Asian-run businesses have also suffered during the pandemic, against a backdrop of heightened discrimination, harassment and assaults against Asian Americans. 

Disparities in long-term unemployment also cut across other demographics, according to the Pew report: For example, while unemployed workers overall and white workers didn’t see much of a gender gap, unemployed men and women of color seemed to experience long-term unemployment at different rates.

Jobless Asian men were more likely than women to be unemployed for longer periods, and the same pattern held true for unemployed Black men and women. Jobless Hispanic women, meanwhile, experienced long-term unemployment at higher rates than men.

And though bachelor’s degree holders and older workers tend to be unemployed at lower rates, unemployed college graduates and older workers were more likely to have been out of work for over six months.

“This pattern could partially reflect difficulties highly trained or experienced workers have finding new jobs or switching career paths once they fall into unemployment,” the report said.