An intriguing phenomenon
In the past, Asians in the US consistently enjoyed low unemployment across all racial groups, even in 2009−the worst year of the Great Recession. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Asians experienced unemployment rates higher than Whites, peaking at 15% in May 2020. Even as the economy started to improve and the unemployment rate began to drop in recent months, the recovery for Asians was slow, and unemployment remained uncharacteristically high.
This is puzzling. Why are things different with Asians this time around?
Overall, adults who have at least a college degree have experienced lower unemployment during the pandemic. Asians have the highest level of educational attainment of all racial groups: 56% of Asians ages 25 and above have a college degree or higher, compared to 35% among Whites. Based on education, we would expect Asian unemployment to be low, but this wasn’t the case.
A few unique demographic, cultural, and geographic aspects about Asian Americans are presented in this article to help explain why Asians are experiencing uncharacteristically high unemployment during the pandemic. We suspect, in addition to involuntary unemployment, perhaps there also was a significant amount of voluntary unemployment—opting out of the work— among Asians, due to a greater awareness of COVID-19 and its fatal consequences.