Across New York, Chinese restaurants have shut down and Asian American workers have filed for unemployment benefits at extraordinary rates. In the state, about 147,000 self-identified Asian workers have filed initial unemployment claims in the last four weeks alone, up from just 2,100 during the same period last year.
That's a 6,900% increase — by far the largest percentage increase experienced by any one racial or ethnic group.
In contrast, claims were up 1,840% for white workers, 1,260% for black workers, and 2,100% for Hispanic and Latino workers in New York.
New York stands out from other states in that in early April, it started releasing detailed demographic breakdowns of unemployment claimants every week. Not surprisingly, claims are skyrocketing for every group in the state, reflecting the sharp economic downturn that nationwide has left 30 million Americans filing first-time unemployment claims since mid-March.
But even so, the increase for Asian Americans is an oddity: It's so large, it's disproportionate to the size of their labor force. Asian workers make up about 9% of New York state's population and work force, but now account for 12.5% of initial claims over the last four weeks. A year ago, they made up just 3.7% of claims during the same time period.
For the other groups, claims are either roughly in line — or well below — the size of their populations. White workers, for example, make up 65% of New York's labor force, but only 51% of recent claims.
What's the cause? Academics and members of the community point to several potential factors ranging from xenophobia to Asian Americans working in industries hard hit by the pandemic, including food and services. Many Asian workers also say they began social distancing earlier in the crisis than others — a factor that led some to close down businesses even before official lockdowns.