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Asian Americans were hit hardest by unemployment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows

Business Insider logo Business Insider 10/30/2020 insider@insider.com (Lauren Frias)
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  • Researchers at University of Kansas found that Asian Americans were "more negatively affected by the lockdown than any other racial group, net of education, immigration status, and other covariates," according to the study.
  • ChangHwan Kim, a sociology professor at University of Kansas and co-author of the study, said the pattern of unemployment is more common among Asian Americans with less education.
  • "Usually Asian Americans are immune to this job decline because Asian Americans are usually well-educated compared to other racial groups," he said.
  • The study's findings comes in contrast with the "model minority" myth — a cultural depiction and expectation that Asians are smart, wealthy, and self-reliant.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A new study found that Asian Americans were the hardest hit by unemployment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers at University of Kansas said that Asian Americans, particularly those with less education, were "more negatively affected by the lockdown than any other racial group, net of education, immigration status, and other covariates," according to the study.

ChangHwan Kim, a sociology professor at University of Kansas and co-author of the study, told Business Insider that he and his team analyzed unemployment data from the Current Population Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau.

After looking at data collected between January to August among individuals ages 18 to 59, Kim said the pattern of unemployment is more common among Asian Americans with less education.

"Asian Americans used to be affected less compared to other major minority groups, but this time it looks different because unemployment caused by the pandemic is concentrated among less educated Asian Americans," Kim told Business Insider.

"Usually Asian Americans are immune to this job decline because Asian Americans are usually well-educated compared to other racial groups," he continued, "but I found that that's not the case, maybe because this pandemic — which people have called the 'Wuhan virus' and the 'Chinese virus' — Asian Americans are suffering the most."

According to the study, Asian Americans were 5.4 percentage points more likely to lose employment than Whites in April, while the likelihood of of Blacks and Hispanics losing employment compared to whites were 4.8 percentage points and 1.7 percentage points, respectively.


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The study's findings comes in contrast with the 'model minority' myth

The concept of the "model minority" is a stereotype that perpetuates the idea in which Asians are the so-called "ideal" minority — a cultural depiction and expectation that Asians are smart, wealthy, and self-reliant.

In the study, Asian Americans who have a bachelor's degree or higher were affected by unemployment in a similar manner as white Americans with the same amount of higher education, Kim said. However, the same cannot be said among those who have less education in the Asian American community.

"In contrast to the model minority image of Asian Americans, the drop in the rate of the currently At-work as a result of the lockdown is most severe among less-educated Asian Americans, regardless of gender," according to the study. "The reasons why less-educated Asian Americans are so negatively affected while highly educated Asian Americans are comparable with other racial groups should be studied further."

Scott Tuttle, a PhD candidate at the University of Kansas who also worked on the study, proposed three possibilities that led to the result of their research.

"Perhaps they're more cautious than the average ethnic group about exposing themselves to COVID," Tuttle told Business Insider. "Asian-owned businesses in neighborhoods heavily populated by other Asians would be heavily affected if this were the case."

"Another possibility is that maybe it's not due to being laid off — maybe it's a self-selection," Tuttlethe resear continued. "So maybe it has to do with voluntarily leaving a job. On average, Asians might have more resources at their disposal to drop out of the labor market, maybe in fear of being exposed to the virus."

Tuttle also proposed the possibility of discrimination playing into the unemployment rates, given that the virus originated from Wuhan, China.

"The FBI has reported that increased incidences of hate crimes against Asians in general, and we saw something similar when the SARS epidemic hit that hate crimes against Asians increased substantially," he said, adding that such discrimination could have also lead to Asians being disproportionately laid off.

The research group is now in the process of developing their findings further to understand the specific groups that were impacted among Asian Americans.

He said, "One of the two avenues that we're looking at is breaking it down by gender and family, kind of seeing how family units were affected, not just the main source of income, the head of household, but also the kids and the spouses and how income was affected."

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