A lot of the discussion about race and unemployment in the media (this blog included) focuses on the high rates of joblessness among Blacks and Latinos. But the cratering job market is having a curious effect on a community often held up as an epitome of nose-to-the-grindstone self-sufficiency. In California, Asian Americans may suffer relatively low rates of unemployment, but a surprising number of them tend to stay stuck in that hole for a long time.
According to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, “In July, nearly half of all jobless Asian Americans in California had been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, compared with 40% of Latinos and 42% of whites.”
On the national level, a similar pattern has emerged: a relatively large share of unemployed Asian American workers out of the job for 27 weeks or longer, ranking below Blacks but above other groups. The median duration of unemployment was 16.6 weeks for Asians, compared to an overall rate of 14.2 and 13.5 weeks for whites and Latinos, respectively.
The LA Times suggests that barriers to reemployment are linked to industries where Asian Americans tend to be employed. Garment manufacturing, for instance, has shrunk considerably since 2007. As with other immigrant groups, Asian American communities have historically relied on low-wage and sharply gendered sectors, including sweatshop work and housekeeping.
A study of Asian American employment by the Economic Policy Institute undercut the model-minority concept by revealing that once education levels are taken into account, “overall, Asian American workers are disadvantaged relative to white workers” in the workforce.
Asian American communities’ self-containment could lead to instability, too, as ethnic-oriented banks and small businesses have foundered in the downturn. And with anti-immigrant fervor running high, even a skilled Asian American worker might face discrimination on the mainstream job market. For these folks, finding an economic foothold means confronting the challenges of immigration as well as frustrated economic mobility, navigating a middle-class decline while pressed against racialized economic margins. Call it a model-minority recession.