While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, one group continues to be hit especially hard: Asian American women. According to NBC News reporter Katherine Kam, while women as a whole lost 156,000 jobs during the month of December (based on a report from the National Women’s Law Center), statistics show that Asian American women continue to be the group hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic. Kam also noted that Asian women are also accounting for the highest rates of long-term unemployment.
“Forty-four percent of unemployed Asian American women have been out of work six months or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Kam wrote, “compared to Black women at 40.8%, Latina women at 38.3% and all women at 38.6%.”
Employment experts attribute the disparity to the types of employment many Asian American women hold. While there are a number of highly paid Asian American women working in professional roles, there’s an equally large number of Asian American women working in the service sector, including positions in restaurants, leisure, hospitality, retail and beauty. And “it’s the service orientation that has harmed many of them as restaurants, stores and nail salons shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19,” economist Diane Lim told Kam.
Researchers at UCLA have speculated that anti-Asian racism may be an exacerbating factor behind the trend, prolonging unemployment for many Asian American women.
“The increase in discrimination against Asian Americans has manifested financially and commercially as customers, employers and co-workers base their economic behavior on discrimination,” the UCLA report stated. “Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that Asian American businesses, particularly those in ethnic enclaves, have experienced the labor-market impact of COVID-19 earlier and more deeply because of the racialized blaming.”
Kam speculated that Asian American women may also suffer higher and prolonged unemployment due to the makeup of their homes, where multigenerational families and the care of both younger and older family members may fall on their shoulders.
“It’s not just caring for children who are not going to school, but caring for elderly who can’t go outside and basically need to quarantine,” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the advocacy group National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, told Kam.
“Faced with seemingly unmanageable responsibilities, Asian American women might opt to leave the workforce,” Kam wrote, “especially if they’re influenced by cultural norms that encourage sacrifice.”
D.I. Fast Facts
Percentage that Asian American unemployment in New York City increased by between February and May of 2020
— Asian American Federation