Friday, October 8, 2010


America’s unemployment problem is hitting a disproportionately higher number of immigrants, a Washington DC-based think tank revealed, even as a separate research revealed jobless Asian Americans are out of work longer than any minority group in the United States.

“Immigrants in the US are particularly vulnerable to job losses during economic downturns,” the Migrant Policy Institute (MPI) said in a report released Oct. 7.

The study estimated that the unemployment rate (national average 9.7%) among Asian Americans has risen from 6.3% in 2009 to 8.1% in the first quarter of 2010. It also revealed that nearly 200,000 Asian Americans have been forced to settle for part-time jobs.

“Unemployment among immigrants in the US is somewhat more cyclical than among natives. But in contrast to many European countries, US immigrant and native unemployment track each other very closely and almost never diverge more than 1 percentage point,” the MPI explained.

The MPI report observed that native and foreign-born employment increased during the recession in education and health services; foreign-born gained and native born lost jobs in services, transportation, utilities, mining and information; and jobs for both native and foreign born declined in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, construction and financial activities.

“Overall, Hispanic immigrants have fared significantly worse than natives, while Asia immigrants have fared significantly better,” the report observed.

Asian Americans holding out for better times?
But research by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed another phenomenon for Asian Americans who did lose their jobs.

Professor Kent Wong discussed in an interview over National Public Radio (NPR) how Asian Americans have stayed out of work longer than blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups despite their perceived edge in education.

“There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes with regard to the Asian American workforce. Many assume that because of the high numbers of college graduates…there are not problems with low-wage employment or unemployment, and that’s just not the case,” Wong told NPR.

US Labor Department statistics show nearly 52% of unemployed Asian Americans – compared to 45% of whites, almost 51% of blacks and 42% of Hispanics – have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

Asian Americans, Wong pointed out, tend to gather in urban areas and live in ethnic enclaves. We add to that the different support structures and manner by way these are delivered to compatriots among the different ethnic Asian American sub-groups.

Language, cultural barriers make finding jobs harder
NPR writer Yuki Noguchi noted how the economic recession has highlighted the weaknesses of this peculiar social and economic framework.

“The community is reinforcing in good times but during a downturn Asian Americans lack the networks or language skills to find jobs outside their community or industry. Whereas Latinos of different nationalities are bound by a common language, there are about a dozen languages spoken in the Asian American community,” Noguchi wrote.

Sociology Associate Professor Margaret May Chin was also quoted by NPR as saying this phenomenon could stem in part by how many work in the cash economy and the fact Asian Americans usually live in multigenerational households.

Chin surmised an unemployed spouse might be compelled to hold out for a job that comes with health benefits. Many more decide to go back to school.

Some of these findings are reflected in the MPI study as well.

It noted, for instance, how labor force participation among Asian youths have declined faster than, say, young Hispanics. The MPI said their study suggests that at a time of widespread joblessness Asian American youth trade off between work and study while Hispanic immigrant youth try to combine the two or don’t enroll in school altogether.

“Prior to the recession in 2007,” the MPI study showed, “upward of 4/5 of Asian immigrant and native born youth who did not participate in the labor market were enrolled in school; by contrast, among Hispanic immigrants, only about half were enrolled in school”.

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