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Employment Relations

Landmark study reveals racial bias and political rhetoric as key drivers for Asian American unemployment during COVID-19

Monash University 3 mins read

An international team of researchers have investigated the relationship between public opinion and the labour market outcomes for underrepresented races and ethnicities in the USA. 

Published in Nature Human Behaviour, the research is the first of its kind to explore the effects of racial bias and political rhetoric against Asians in the US labour market. 

Using data from the Current Population Survey, the study found, unlike other underrepresented groups, Asian workers in occupations or industries with a higher likelihood of face-to-face interactions were significantly more likely to become unemployed afterwards. 

In addition to facing an increased risk of unemployment, Asian workers in these jobs who remained employed during the pandemic experienced a substantial decline in their weekly earnings. Importantly, this was not the case for other underrepresented ethnicities. For the first time in recent history, these findings show Asians’ unemployment rate exceeded that of white workers and it was entirely driven by those working in jobs that require face-to-face interactions.  

Professor Kaveh Majlesi, from the Department of Economics at Monash University, said “We examined labour market data between January 2019 and May 2021, from the Current Population Survey and found that, relative to white employees, all minorities performed poorly in the job market during the pandemic but, unlike other minorities, the increase in Asian unemployment was entirely driven by those working in occupations that are more likely to require face-to-face interactions. Among Asian Americans who worked in more face-to-face occupations and industries, those that were still employed saw a drop in their weekly earnings. Something not observed among other racial groups.” 

The researchers categorised individuals into four groups on the basis of race and ethnicity; Asian and Pacific Islander, White, Black and Hispanic. The researchers then quantified the negative effects of the pandemic on employment outcomes for Asian workers among others, examining employment trends for the same individuals before and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

The authors also find that, consistent with a role for public opinion affecting labour market outcomes, the effects are larger in magnitude in strongly Republican states, where anti-Asian rhetoric might have had more influence. Additionally, they show that, while widespread along the political spectrum, negative shifts in views of Asians were much stronger among those who voted for President Trump in 2016 and those who report watching Fox News channel.

Professor Silvia Prina, from the Department of Economics at Northeastern University, explains how the research contributes to existing literature about the detrimental impacts racial bias against underrepresented groups can have on the economic lives of those targeted groups.

“Our results raise caution about the increasingly divisive racial rhetoric that is currently apparent in politics and the media in the USA and beyond. The role of media and public opinion plays a significant role in shaping the life outcomes of individuals who come from underrepresented groups and therefore it’s important to acknowledge how concerning these negative public views can be towards an underrepresented group,” Professor Prina said. 

The anti-Chinese rhetoric by political figures such as Donald Trump and right-wing media outlets during the pandemic was likely to have played an important role in people’s perception of Asian people and their willingness to interact with them as workers, therefore resulting in increased unemployment rates among Asian workers. 

The researchers found that after the COVID-19 outbreak, Asians faced discrimination in their daily lives almost everywhere, however further research is needed to determine the outreach of such findings. 

To view the research paper, please visit: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-024-01904-w

- ENDS -

 

*Professor Majlesi is overseas and can respond to emails, but responses could be delayed due to time zone differences.

RESEARCHERS

Professor Kaveh Majlesi, Department of Economics, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and Department of Economics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

Professor Silvia Prina, Department of Economics, Northeastern University, Boston, MA,

Associate Professor Paul Sullivan, Department of Economics, American University, Washington, DC, USA

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M: +61 474 444 171

Email: helena.powell@monash.edu

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